Attorney’s Sandstock report blames ‘failure of proper governance’

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VENTNOR – The city released a report prepared by an independent attorney about what went wrong to cause a Latin festival to be cancelled at the last minute.

Attorney Frank L. Corrado of Barry Corrado and Grassi, PC of Wildwood, was hired last September to investigate the demise of Sandstock, a two-day Latin freestyle beach festival that was to be held Sept. 21-22, 2013, on a privately owned vacant lot on Wellington Avenue. Corrado was paid $13,783 for his report, which included a synopsis of the events leading up to the cancellation, and any corrective action deemed necessary.

“This was, in short, a substantial failure of proper governance, and of proper governmental process,” Corrado noted in the report.

Corrado presented the report to the Ventnor Board of Commissioners at an executive session on April 10, but the board took no action to accept it, nor has it ordered disciplinary action toward any employee. Mayor Michael Bagnell and Solicitor Amy R. Weintrob were excused from the meeting.

It concludes that city officials failed to do their homework by not properly investigating Sandstock and the city’s ability to put on the festival, recognizing that a festival of the size and scope proposed would require intensive review by the city and failing to consult the proper authorities about safety issues, including traffic, sanitation and liability, Corrado said.

The 27-page report was obtained after The Downbeach Current filed an OPRA request. One paragraph in Corrado’s summary of findings and conclusions, and another in the conclusions section, were redacted, citing attorney/client privilege.

Corrado listed 74 different actions leading up to the festival’s cancellation.

Corrado said Ventnor mishandled the festival, stating that Bagnell and Management Specialist Tom Quirk were at fault for the deficiencies, which included a lack of communication among departments, lack of documentation, failure to involve legal counsel, confusion about the proper process to put on a festival, and failing to have the entire Ventnor Board of Commissioners involved in the decision-making process.

Corrado noted, however, that city ordinances are vague when it comes to organizing events.

“The city does not currently have in place an ordinance that clearly sets forth the process for city review and approval of large scale events, whether on private or public property,” Corrado noted.

As the time quickly approached for the festival, Weintrob found problems with an indemnity agreement between the city and festival organizers, reviewed ordinances and concluded a special events permit would be required, Corrado said.

The mayor did not think a permit was necessary because the event was being held on private property, Corrado said.

Weintrob discussed the site with Zoning Officer and Construction Code Official Jimmy Agnesino, who also expressed concern about the viability of the property, which officials agreed was in deplorable condition. Weintrob told organizers they would need to get a permit from the Ventnor Recreation Board.

After a planning meeting, Weintrob gathered city officials “and dressed them down” stating she had doubts about Sandstock’s ability to perform given the short time frame and the city’s liability, Corrado said.

Quirk did not attend the Recreation Board’s meeting because Quirk said he was told by the mayor and solicitor not to attend. Quirk said he heard afterward that “they (Sandstock) spent an hour slamming me in front of the board,” Corrado said in the report.

At the Recreation Board’s meeting on the application, a motion to approve the festival did not receive a second, which resulted in a denial.

After interviewing 16 city employees, including Quirk and the commissioners, Corrado said he could not resolve Sandstock’s claim that Quirk “demanded a $5,000 contribution to the Home School Association as the price of the city’s endorsement of the festival; and the city’s contrary claims that Sandstock volunteered to donate $5,000 to a municipal organization of the city’s choice."

“To their credit, both Mayor Bagnell and Tom Quirk concede they made ‘mistakes’ in their handling of the festival,” Corrado noted. “Quirk told me he ‘should have stayed on top of it,’ and the mayor said he was wrong to have decided the special event permit issue without consulting the solicitor.”

Nevertheless, Corrado said in his opinion, neither the mayor nor Quirk “possessed an adequate understanding of how the commission form of government is supposed to function, what the city’s role must be when dealing with an event like the festival, and what processes must be followed to perform in that municipal role.”

In a related matter, on April 9, Quirk’s attorney Samuel D. Lashman notified the city that his client filed a tort claim notice of his intention to sue the city for $1 million for “malicious, harassing and otherwise harmful acts” allegedly made by the City Clerk Janice Callaghan, Commissioner Theresa Kelly and other city officers for releasing the contents of executive session meeting minutes on the Latin festival that should have been private.

Lashman said minutes of meetings held to discuss a personnel issue were released and appeared on the Internet.

“Something came out on the Internet quoting the minutes, which were supposed to be confidential. Whoever posted them could have gotten the information from a city employee,” Lashman said.

“Tom tried to involve everyone, including the legal department, and tried to accommodate the promoter considering the short time frame,” Lashman said. “At the end of the day, I don’t know why an event that was to be held on private property would even have to go to the rec board.

Bagnell, Kelly and Callaghan declined comment on the advice of Solicitor Amy R. Weintrob.




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