Last updated: August 10. 2014 11:06PM - 1164 Views
By - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

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Usually something must be produced before it is panned by “critics,” but Mount Airy officials have given two thumbs down to a proposed video project promoting the city before the first frame was shot.

They used words including “criminal” and “victim” in lambasting the idea and the sales tactics an outside production company planned to employ for the project.

The plan arose from CGI Communications Inc., a Rochester, N.Y., company, contacting city government personnel several months ago about a “video showcase program” in which it would produce footage promoting the community to go on the city’s website. These could have included a welcome message from the mayor or spots for tourism events, among other topics.

Under the plan, this would have cost the city government nothing — except for staff time — but be supported financially by soliciting ads from local businesses that received website exposure and other commercial benefits in return.

But that part of the program, and other concerns raised regarding an involvement with CGI, caused the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to pull the plug on the project during a meeting Thursday.

Commissioners’ collective concerns centered on a rash of complaints registered with the Better Business Bureau about CGI, the fact there are local entities that could produce better videos and possible price-gouging of businesses that participated, among other potential problems.

The bottom line was a belief the video showcase, which required the signing of an agreement with CGI, could create more problems than any promotional value the city hoped to receive.

“I am just not in favor of this proposal,” said Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, the most vocal critic of the idea no other board member voiced support for, either.

Research by Brinkley unearthed the complaints about CGI filed with the Better Business Bureau, which she said totaled 14 over a three-year period, just since 2011. “And that bothers me,” Brinkley added of the varied complaints — among them advertising issues and problems with products and delivery.

Brinkley also was concerned about problems surfacing in regard to governmental units being able to break the contract with CGI if they find the arrangement unsatisfactory. “Clemmons is having trouble with them right now.”

“Seen This Movie”

City Parks and Recreation Director Catrina Alexander, who also has worked with the city website and brought the video proposal to the commissioners for their blessing, pointed out Thursday that some positives were associated with the video showcase program.

She said there appears to be a 30-day provision whereby the municipality could sever the ties with CGI. It also would provide about five free videos even if no business agreed to participate and host them on its dedicated server for three years.

“Surry County is actually filming right now — they will be participating in the showcase with the same company,” Alexander told the commissioners.

And though she offered to arrange a conference call with CGI so board members could iron out any concerns, their basic response was “we have seen this movie before.”

Commissioner Jim Armbrister, a retired veteran member of the Mount Airy Police Department, likened the video showcase to various and sundry publications supporting law enforcement which have surfaced over the years.

Some advertising company will waltz in, use the police department or city government name and solicit ads from businesses at prices Armbrister called exorbitant, which he believes creates a “victim” culture.

Armbrister said the board should be cautious about playing a part in such solicitations.

Commissioner Dean Brown offered a similar analysis.

“I’ve worked with criminals most of my life,” Brown said of his former career as a prison educator.

“About every five years, somebody rides into town on a big white horse with something to sell,” he added. “Somebody rides into town with a wonderful story and a great sales pitch — and it sounds wonderful.”

Companies such as CGI go to many different places and “they make a lot of money,” Brown said.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley also referred to the city staff time that would be involved with the project, costing an estimated $1,100 to $5,000. Board members often are told that personnel are having to do more with less due to economic pressures of late.

“It will cost the staff some time — nothing is free — and we already work with a skeleton crew,” said Brinkley, who questioned the overall value of the video showcase.

“How is this going to benefit the city other than what we’ve already got?”

If local government does want videos produced on its behalf, it can consult companies in this area which handle such projects, according to Thursday’s discussion. Along with supporting a business here, this would ensure editorial control, which apparently isn’t the case with CGI.

This included fears that the words of local officials, including the mayor, might be dubbed over by slick narrators who wouldn’t have the “Southern” sound that is unique to Mount Airy.

“If you want to have a video of the mayor welcoming,” Brinkley said, “let her use her voice.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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