Corruption, dysfunction and incompetence at Grants Pass city hall
GRANTS PASS , OREGON. —Mark Twain said: “It’s easier to fool people than convince them they’ve been fooled.” We’re watching this play out in a little town out west, Grants Pass, Oregon, population around 34,000, where a local insider/scammer continues to pull the wool over the eyes of the non-questioning city council.
How would you like a job that pays $24,166.00 of public money every month? No experience needed, no verifiable accounting for the money, and no need to produce anything viable. To qualify all you need is a silver tongue, a well positioned crony, and a well camouflaged line of BS. There’s a job just like that with the little City of Grants Pass, Oregon, but you’re too late, a local insider beat you to it – a California transplant by the name of Mr. Jon Bowen. He landed a City Tourism deal where he’s supposed to promote and enhance tourism in the area and in return gets nearly $900,000 of public money for the contract’s 3-year term, all with little oversight or accountability. Hey, I would have liked to apply for that job. Sorry, apparently Mr. Bowen was pre-selected before the job opening was ever made public. It is reported that the City Council President was talking about giving the job to Mr. Bowen a year before anyone knew the position was going to be created. Bowen answers to the City Council, but convenient for him, they don’t ask many real questions – like, what happened to the money?
Is this a true story or grade-B reality TV series that gets canceled after its pilot runs because no one would ever believe it could happen. Well it’s as true as Benjamin Franklin’s picture on hundred dollar bills and the people of Grants Pass Oregon are paying 100% of the production costs while getting virtually nothing in return. How could this happen?
A few years ago Mr. Bowen, a California hot shot, hit lil’ ol’ Grants Pass, Oregon with a flashy bankroll and the gift of gab. He bought an ongoing and successful area travel magazine, two big downtown buildings, opened a fancy restaurant and bought a hamburger stand. It didn’t take long before the magazine went belly up, one of the buildings was sold at a huge loss, the restaurant’s doors were shut, the hamburger stand was barely keeping the coffee cups filled, and the California kid’s home was in jeopardy. It was well known, that this silver tongue schemer was on the brink of bankruptcy when his well positioned crony, the Grants Pass City Manager tossed him a financial lifeline by creating a nice fat job just for him. Bowen got a contract worth close to a Million dollars to take over the City’s tourism promotions even though he doesn’t appear to have had any experience successfully supervising multi-media ad campaigns. The best part for Bowen is that there is virtually no accountability for his performance. He doesn’t have to document any results or prove what he does with the money since there are no monthly itemized financial statements with trustworthy documents and genuine receipts, and hasn’t been for over a year and a half. Amazing that none of the responsible authorities (the City Council) have asked for them instead, it’s:.
“No need to have any experience. Here’s $24,166.00 a month – see if you can figure out what do with it. Don’t worry, we’ll gin up a contract that will dazzle the empty heads that sit in the City Council seats and get the one with the biggest mouthpiece (the Council President) to publicly endorse it. He wants our support to run for the sweet salary of County Commissioner, so he won’t rock our boat we’ve got him under control.” Many locals interviewed said they didn’t think the City Council actually reads contracts the City staff writes.
What Bowen did with the contract consisted of taking one and a half years to futilely attempt to design an amateurish logo for the town, and little else. The logo and accompanying slogan were so bad, it created a community uproar among the citizens who deluged their eight Councilors, filled the local radio airwaves, Facebook threads, and letters to the editor of the local newspaper with protests. Many hundreds of people thought his work was totally inappropriate and of poor quality but Bowen simply ignored what he didn’t like hearing and according to those in the know, planned to use it in spite of the community, and he did. And the City Councilors keep their mouths shut.
Mr Bowen has inferred all along that he has a full-service marketing company “Experience Grants Pass”, but actually is a one-man-band with no paid creative staff. The only experience we found he has, that’s even close to being related, is that he had a job in California pressing the record button on a video camera making anti-drug videos for school districts years ago.
For his complete lack of producing tourism promotions for the businesses of Grants Pass he should have been fired within 3 months. The big question is: Where did the money go? The $483,320.00 of taxpayer dollars that he’s been paid so far – nearly half a million in just 20 months! Why doesn’t the City Council ask questions and demand accountability?
Fact is that Mr. Bowen has breached entire sections of his contract with no consequences. The supervisor at city hall, who is supposed to oversee Bowen’s contract, assistant City Manager David Reeves, simply repeats the mantra to the City councilors: “Jon is doing a great job” while he nods his head up and down. The clueless Councilors then nod their heads up and down (like a bobble head in a 56 chevy) and repeat the mantra to business owners and taxpayers without being able to cite any Tourism accomplishments. Over a dozen businesses we interviewed for this story have no any idea what if anything Mr. Bowen has done to bring more tourists to Grants pass. There’s been no advertising or promotion that’s visible, and no brochures, written articles, copies of ads, radio and television commercials, schedule of events, and activities usual to Tourism promotion so far. Nada, zilch. What happened to the money? No one will say. The City Council and the City Manager keep their mouth’s shut.
It’s unheard of with public money that one is given free rein and doesn’t have to prove where its being spent. Not City Manager Aaron Cubic, not Council President Dan DeYoung, not any of the other Councilors or the local media ask. DeYoung should probably get a pass, he’s too busy campaigning for the paid position of County Commissioner to pay attention to Mr. Bowen’s ballooning bank account. In the interest of fairness it should also be noted DeYoung is not alone in his dereliction of duty. Former city councilor Lily Morgan who whole-heartedly supported Mr. Bowen receiving this contract recently resigned her seat on the Council to also focus on a run for County Commissioner. Judging by their complete lack of effective oversight of the Grants Pass tourism and economic development departments the public would be very foolish to think their ability to manage large sums of money will be any better should they be elected and placed in charge of those departments for Josephine County. Their attitude is obviously: just throw money at issues and the issues will solve themselves.
Mr. Bowen has claimed that he needed to design a new logo before he could do any promotion even though the city has several serviceable logos and slogans that had been used for many years. The experienced marketers I frequently work with will tell you that the logo is the easiest part of any promotion. The hard part is bringing people’s eyes to the logo and then getting them to act on it. In other words: Where are you going to place the logo where, out of area prospective tourists will see it and how will you get them to respond? Mr. Bowen hasn’t even touched any of that. Why should he? At his current rate of tap dancing he’ll be nearing the end of the first three years of the initial contract before anyone on the Grants Pass City Council will come up with the courage to clear their throat and responsibly, authoritatively demand results for the $870,000 he will have been paid. By then supervisor Reeves and City Manager Cubic will probably switch to a new mantra: “we can’t change horses in mid-stream. Jon’s doing a great job and his promotions are so close to bearing fruit.” This doesn’t pass the smell test.
Spring, Summer, and Fall, are prime months for tourism in that Grants Pass but there’s been no sign of promoting it by Mr. California. They are now heading into the third travel season with Mr. Bowen at the helm and the local economy has gotten virtually no benefit by anything he has done, primarily because he’s done nothing that we could find. Keep in mind this guy couldn’t sell enough ads in his travel magazine to keep it afloat, and evidently mismanages everything he touches. It doesn’t add up, and the responsible authority, the City Council, doesn’t ask questions. They just nod their heads and repeat the mantra.
Shortly after getting the bloated contract, Bowen bought himself a big red Cadillac SUV. The guys at the local Cadillac dealer probably think he’s a swell guy. Must be fun living in a backwater burg where there’s little oversight of whatever City Hall wants to spend the local taxpayers money on. This is the same place, where its documented, that the members of the City Council paid $500,000 for 5 open air bus stops that actually came in kits that can be put together by boy scouts. Other towns bought them for about $8,000 each.
The city government in Grants Pass, Oregon must have money to burn. Ironically, the income for a single person in that little hamlet is a whopping $21,000 per year! A real poverty pocket in the State.
One business owner interviewed suggested that more tourists would likely have been brought to the City with the $870,000 if the Council had chosen 87 private sector local businesses who could document that they typically invest 2% of their annual gross sales to promotion, and had given them them $10,000 each to invest in more advertising.
So now, Jon Bowen continues to draw $24,166 each month of public money, while the Grants Pass City Council thumbs its nose at the community, and Bowen chortles all the way to the bank. Mark Twain’s “its easier to fool people than convince them they’ve been fooled” never applied more than it does in the City Council chamber in Grants Pass, Oregon.
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