Saturday, December 10, 2005

Other Peoples Money

Hardly a day goes by here at my business where I don't hear the phrase "hey I don't care how much it is, it's not my money!"

The meaning is that since that person is purchasing the tool or whatever under the banner of the company, and that since the money for it isn't directly coming out of that persons personal accounts that they are justified for not price shopping or to search for some other alternative or deal. While this is music to my ears, I assume if the owners of the business that these people work for heard this that they would be quite distraught, especially if the employee is circumventing normal procedures.

This setup brings me to one of the largest scandals you have never heard of. It is happening here in Madison and it has to do with charity, or the lack of it.

I wrote extensively about the fiasco here and will reproduce that post so you may catch up on the story:

Someone a long time ago said "A fool and his money are soon parted". Pair a fool and someone else's money and the results are very predictable. This is a story of charity, politics, and mismanagement at best, theft at worst.

W. Jerome Frautschi is a third generation Madisonian. He grew up in his family business called Webcrafters. They are a book publisher still manufacturing here in Madison and must be a very good one. This man became, over his life, rich beyond most of our dreams. His mate is Pleasant Rowland. You may not recognize that name, but most of you out there no doubt have patronized one of her companies in the past if you have a little girl in your family. Pleasant Rowland started making high quality dolls and educational books back in 1985. She started mailing her first catalogs, going directly to consumers in 1986. The "Pleasant Company" was on its way. The dolls they made were called "American Girls" and they were a smash. The company's name changed to American Girl and was sold to the Mattel Corporation in 1998 for $700 million.

Mr. Frautschi and Ms. Rowland wanted to do something for the city they have loved all of their lives, Madison, Wisconsin (from where I write this piece tonight). Did they ever.On July 27, 1998 Mr. Frautschi announced the creation of the Overture Foundation. He started it with a donation of $50 million. The express goal was to create a world class performing arts facility right in the heart of downtown Madison. A quote from Mr. Frautschi on that fateful day:

"Since no private fund raising effort will be required to complete the
Project," said Mr. Frautschi, "the arts organizations can now focus on raising money to enhance their programming and operations, and not worry about capital expenditures for performance and exhibition facilities."

And a portent of things to come:

While no public funding is anticipated, the organization will attempt to secure the cooperation of the State of Wisconsin, Dane County and the City of Madison to undertake the project. Equally important will be the continuing collaboration of the local arts and community groups in realizing this vision.
Mr. Frautschi and Ms. Rowland eventually must have felt that $50 million was not enough to do all they wanted to do with the newly created "Arts District". They ponied up another $50 million and then another $105 million! For those who are numerically challenged that is a grand total of a whopping $205 million, one of the largest private donations to the arts in history. The foundation hired the famous architect Cesar Pelli to design the new Overture Center. You can view some of his works, including the finished portions of the Overture Center on his website. Then the foundation strongarmed the city of Madison into using eminent domain powers to push out all of the small business that were in the way of the immense project. Only one took it to court and here he is. I am sure if you wanted to talk to the owner he would have some great stories. They moved his burger joint to a different location in Madison.

Phase One of the Overture Center opened up in September of 2004. I still haven't been there but my wife has. I guess it is pretty nice. Phase two is under construction as we speak. Honestly I am not sure how many phases there are and frankly I don't care. One month ago the Overture Center announced that it wanted the City of Madison to co-sign for a loan to cover maintenance costs. The loan is for $17 million. That's right, if the Overture Center runs out of dough, the taxpayers pick up the tab. Please re-read the two indented quotes above, taken from the Overture Center's own website. The Overture Center states that the gift of $205 million would see the project to completion, but then they need more money for upkeep.

I could hardly believe my ears! Why? How? I say mismanagement on a criminal level. The official reason is a "bad stock market". Bullshit. If you are managing a huge pot of money are you telling me that you had it 100% invested in stocks? If that is true, you should go to jail. No one should be 100% in stocks, whether you have $20,000 or $205 million. That is one of the reasons I felt bad, but not too bad for the Enron employees that lost their retirement. No, it is not right that their money was stolen, but it was very dumb for them to have their entire retirement fund in stocks - many of them had it in one stock - Enron! I think the Overture Center got robbed by someone, somewhere. It may have been a broker turning comissions, or whoever. Maybe the folks who ran the Overture Center building should have maybe - maybe - scaled it down a bit? Or left a little money for maintenance at the end - like $17 million? I feel very bad for Mr. Frautschi and Ms. Rowland who gave that immense amount of money - just to see that foundation beg for more. I feel worse for the taxpayers of the City of Madison.

**Now, jokingly, we call the Overture Center the "Great Peoples Center for the Performing Arts" - a term I love coined by my favorite newsman of all time, Madison's very own Tim Morrisey over at WTDY.

Now, today, comes a new article describing the seriously screwy state of the Overture Center and the unbelievable actions of employees there, including the director, Bob D'Angelo!

If you read the article, you will see just how messed up that working environment was. This story doesn't get enough press. Jerry Frautchi gave the city of Madison over $200 million and much of it was wasted and the office that was set up to administer the outlay of the money was totally dysfunctional. EVERYONE should be up in arms about this because do you know who is going to have to pay to fix the mess? You guessed it, the taxpayers of the city of Madison.

Have we learned anything? If you trust others with your money, make sure they are worthy! I give regularly to one charity in particular and have a pretty good read on what goes on there - you should! I just feel bad for Frautchi, who really wanted to do something good for the city he loved and that has made him rich, but instead he gets a bunch of rank amateurs in an office complex squandering his money, sexually harassing the staff and being, in general, a bunch of assholes. Congratulations, Overture Center!


Anonymous said...

You should not feel sorry for a crazy inhumane being such as Rowland who is an obese self loathing tyrant who will go to any means to destroy hard working honest peoples lives(too long of a list to mention) just to feed her own ego. I say great job to those who gave it back to Rowland. You know the old saying "What goes around comes around. Sent this to Pleasant Rowland & let her guess who's life she tried to ruin but failed to. Like I stated before the list is too long and she has a short memory and a small mind (the only part on her body that is small). If you disagree with this too damn bad. Maybe you should take a trip to Aurora,NY and talk to the citizens there and see if they feel sorry for Rowland & Frautchi. Rowland has destroyed that town. And to set the record straight American girl dolls are not high quality the majority of the dolls parts come from China & are assembled in the US. God willing maybe they both be in poverty soon.

Dan from Madison said...

The theme of my post is about how the Overture Center has squandered the cash. I don't know Rowland or
Frautchi personally so can't make that call. By the way making fun of someone's weight diminishes your arguments validity.