The above graphics are from June 2017, when the Board initially heard the proposal from Bill Bowman, and from July 2017 when the Board voted unanimously to accept the proposal. But what exactly was the proposal?
What was presented as the Hope Mills Initiative (HMI) was really a collaborative effort between the Hope Mills staff, the Hope Mills Chamber of Commerce and Bill Bowman, the publisher of Up & Coming Weekly. It was the result of a tremendous amount of work and research by Melissa Adams, interim clerk Debra Holland, Jan Spell, Jackie Warner and the late Bob Gorman, over the course of many months.
Together they developed a program to “make sure local businesses have “time tested”, affordable and effective ways available to market, promote and advertise their business, goods and services. We will have open dialog with HM residents providing them space to promote their events with a weekly up-to-date event calendar hosting local Hope Mills events and other relevant Cumberland County happenings. U&CW will also be providing editorial space for local residents to contribute their thoughts and insights.” Bill Bowman
It was heralded as a first tentative step towards developing a marketing strategy for the town with 13 distinct objectives:
Three formal discussions were held at Sammio’s and the public was invited to hear an impressive list of community leaders discuss the initiative.
HMI was an opportunity for the citizens, businesses and organizations in Hope Mills to take control of the narrative and tell their story. And it was an opportunity to reach 300,000 readers in Cumberland County.
Bowman also offered advertising to Hope Mills businesses and organizations at drastically discounted rates to help jump-start economic development in our community. Commissioners Mitchell and Larson have been quick to reference the roughly $28,000 the town was spending on the project, but they’ve never mentioned the $14,000 Bill Bowman spent to get the program started or that the agreement included him matching the town’s investment or matching the costs for businesses who advertised.
Before the initiative had really begun, it was in trouble. This Board was sworn in a week prior to the event at Sammio’s. Larson balked at tasking the staff with writing articles, then balked at the board writing articles themselves. But no one ever asked the staff or the board to provide the articles. Town Clerk Debbie Holland sent an email to the board with a calendar of deadlines. Soon after she sent a revised email indicating she did NOT mean to imply the staff and board would be responsible for providing articles. It was to provide them with deadlines in case they wanted to write about something specific, outside of the usual articles the two Up & Coming writers were already providing. The initiative relied on a steady flow of information so Bowman tasked his new sports writer, Earl Vaughan, Jr. with covering Hope Mills.
Vaughan, who briefly lived in Hope Mills 30 years ago, immediately began building relationships with Hope Mills residents. He managed to ‘plug into’ our community, familiarize himself with our history and stay two steps ahead of every story.
During the budget retreat on March 3 2018, the board discussed the expense of the initiative and their alternatives. Ultimately they voted 3/2 not to renew the agreement when it concluded on September 6. Mitchell and Edwards voted against the motion. You can review the minutes from the meeting on their website.
In the same feckless manner with which they dismiss staff recommendations, doing a feasibility study on the proposed walking trail, and the expert opinion of the consultants they hire, they dismissed the Hope Mills Initiative. They knew better than the dozen community leaders and the subject matter experts who designed the Initiative.
By August 6, there was contention. Commissioner Mitchell was displeased and made a motion to end the contract immediately. At that point the municipality had already paid the agreement in full and there were already pending articles waiting for publication. Mitchell’s motion passed, but it had no effect on the publication.
In fact, it continues to have no effect on the publication.
Earl Vaughan, Jr. began writing about Hope Mills in the early Spring of 2018. He writes 2-4 articles a week depending on what’s happening and what sports are in season. He is a one-man marketing team for our town, promoting anything and everything that needs promoting.
Since September 6th 2018, when the gentleman’s agreement with Hope Mills ended, Up & Coming Weekly has published more than 60 ‘good’ articles about the town of Hope Mills, to include advertising 21 events, 13 mentions of local schools, teachers, and students, 26 general information pieces and they’ve mentioned no less than 11 local businesses!
These numbers don’t include the non-stop coverage of local high school sports. It doesn’t include the handful of stories that were published on the website but not in the paper. It doesn’t include any of the articles I’ve written for UCW and it doesn’t include the weekly calendar of Hope Mills events. A weekly calendar isn’t published for any other municipality. In fact, no other municipality enjoys a dedicated section of the paper.
The truth is, Bowman never stopped the program he began with the previous Board in 2017. While this Board ignored the hard work of dozens of people and squandered the opportunity provided to them, Bowman quietly kept working. Bill Bowman and UCW no longer enjoy the benefit of a financial agreement with Hope Mills, but the town very much enjoys the benefit of Bill Bowman’s generosity.
“We basically said – on the last Board meeting – I just asked all media if they would report some balanced reporting – ask both sides their opinions about things – they would have a better outlook on Hope Mills and be in a more positive manner – you know – you’re not gonna accomplish anything by printing all this negative news – has a lot of misleading facts – that aren’t facts at all. And the fact that we cancelled the contract with this publication about 3-4 weeks ago – it loses – that publication loses credibility when they make such negative comments when they’re ‘tooted’ as a positive magazine….There’s a whole blog dedicated to the destruction of Commissioner Larson and myself and there’s some politics played in there. It kinda loses credibility when we’ve cancelled the contract and then they come back – it’s almost retaliatory in nature.” Commissioner Mitchell – August radio interveiw on 640AM
“If you wanna give one-sided views that’s not reputable – also we did not renew your contract in September for $28,000 a year. In the general public’s eye everything you’re doing is vindictiveness.” Commissioner Mitchell – March 25, 2018
And the Commissioners still complain. Beginning in August, when Commissioners Larson and Mitchell were on a local talk radio station, and as recently as the March 25th meeting, Commissioner Mitchell declared Bill Bowman was simply being vindictive because he was angry the board ‘cancelled the contract’.
There was never a contract. It was only ever a plan, conceived of and implemented by some of the most impressive leaders in our community. And it was another golden opportunity missed by this board because they choose at all times to dwell in innuendo and conspiracy theories.
Bill Bowman and I were both at the March 25th meeting prepared to address the Board. But once again they used their elected seats as a pulpit from which they condemned us, without ever giving us an opportunity to speak or defend ourselves.
If Bill Bowman was vindictive, Earl Vaughan would have been reassigned months ago and Hope Mills wouldn’t have dozens of articles announcing their events and promoting their businesses. The Board chose not to pay to participate in the Pocket Guide published by UCW several months ago, but Bill Bowman waived the fee and included a small section for the town anyway. Does that sound like the actions of a vindictive man?
I won’t speak for Bowman’s articles, but i will tell you the articles I write are designed to mirror the Board’s actions. When they’ve done good things, I’ve reported that. Unfortunately, so little of what they do is good.
This situation, like so may others in recent months, has been misrepresented by members of the board to defend their wretched behavior. While they hurl accusations our way, they’re free to continue misbehaving. We are their red herring.
Click here to see more information about the Hope Mills Initiative, Commissioner Larson’s comments about UCW, screen captures from the meetings, etc..