The final note of this year’s West Oak Lane Jazz Festival has vanished from the air, but a new complaint has surfaced about the event sponsor that echoes two earlier gripes about the organization’s scruples.
“They strung me along,” said Wayne O’Neil of Puzzled by Agape, a graphic design company. O’Neil alleged he was hired as the festival’s official designer, but was later let go after doing weeks of work and producing many designs for the project. That decision, he said, cost him well over $10,000.
Since 2004, the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation has invited residents from the fete’s namesake community and beyond to enter the festival free of charge. That thanks in large part to a unique tradition of state funding, steered to the festival in the form of hefty grants by Rep. Dwight Evans, who founded OARC.
In 2010, OARC, a non-profit, received a $1 million state grant for the festival. This year’s edition of the Jazz Festival will be backed by $821,000 in taxpayer dollars.
Evans and OARC’s CEO, Jack Kitchen, argue the money is well spent because it aides a multi-pronged community development effort and creates jobs. Over a four day period, Evans said, the festival employs 2,083 people.
“No where else in the city – four days of work – you ain’t seen nothing like that,” said Evans at a recent jazz festival gala.
But O’Neil said that wasn’t his experience, and he’s planning to sue to get his money back. He alleges he had an agreement with OARC to create a series of images for the jazz festival’s official apparel, including shirts and hats.
That agreement – more verbal than written – was abruptly broken in the middle of May, said O’Neil, when he was told OARC planned to work with a different design company.
Even though he doesn’t have a contract for his work, he says he can prove there was an agreement with a late-February email.
“Go ahead & start working on a design, I got the go to give the contract to you,” reads an email O’Neil provided to NewsWorks. The file depicts its writer was Erica Chase, OARC’s former Information Technology Officer.
Chase later left the CDC, according to O’Neil, and the duties of coordinating with designers was handed over to Terri Grantham and Tara Johnson of OARC. Chase could not be reached for comment.
From that point forward, O’Neil said he had “multiple contacts, meetings, phone conversations in regards to design” with Grantham and Johnson. Those meetings, he said, focused on shirt sizes, quantities and the design itself, among other things.
“If that’s not an agreement then I don’t know what is,” he said.
O’Neil said that neither he nor anyone from OARC ever signed a more traditional employment contract because “they couldn’t narrow down exactly how many units they needed.”
O’Neil never met with Kitchen during that period. Kitchen confirmed that O’Neil was selected through an initial process to find designers, but never had a formal contract with the nonprofit that spelled out “the scope of services to be delivered, cost etc.”
“This is where the process stopped with Mr. O’Neil. For whatever reason a contract was not executed and we moved on to another vendor,” Kitchen wrote in an email to NewsWorks.Kitchen said none of O’Neil’s designs were used during this year’s Jazz Festival. He said he plans on meeting with the designer to discuss his complainant.
The ‘trane’ that left the station
O’Neil is not the only one alleging OARC reneged on an agreement. The organizers for a smaller, jazz festival in Germantown and the former owner of a West Oak Lane restaurant have quibbles of their own.
Raymond and Rosalind Wood, organizers of the John Coltrane, or the “Tranestop” jazz festival, allege that OARC promised to pour up to $80,000 into the festival in 2010, but backed out of that agreement at the last minute.
The decision, said Raymond Wood, forced him to shut down his event.
Wood told NewsWorks in December that OARC, at the behest of Rep. Evans, intentionally strung him and his wife along in order to eliminate them as competition. He reasoned the organizers of the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival didn’t appreciate having a cheaper, but successful jazz festival so close by.
“[Evans] crushes, or attempts to crush any kind of economic development that he is not into,” Raymond Wood said at the time.
Kitchen said he welcomed the other event. And he said Wood came to him asking for major funding but OARC never committed because Kitchen was doubtful about Wood’s bookkeeping and relationship with past business partners. He said OARC severed ties with the Tranestop organizers after he realized Wood had also reached out to State Rep. John Myers (D., Phila.) and asked if he could help secure funding for the festival for a lower price.
“We were ready willing and able to do $10,000,” Kitchen told NewsWorks in December. “The problem was, when I started talking to John Myers’ office I found out that Ray Woods was shopping two budgets.”
Myers’ Chief of Staff Stephen Kinsey said the lawmaker backed away from the festival after learning the same.
He doesn’t relish OARC
Kevin Sadiki Travick, former owner of a West Oak Lane restaurant now called Relish, filed a civil suit last June against OARC’s Kitchen and others. The local businessman alleges the defendants set him up for failure in order to take over his business.
The lawsuit claims that Kitchen promised him a liquor license, but never followed through. The lack of sales of alcohol, the civil complaint alleges, made it “impossible” for Travick’s business to stay afloat.
Travick also alleges that Kitchen physically threatened him during two meetings where the need for a liquor license was discussed. The suit claims that Kitchen told Travick at one of those meetings that he would, “come across this table and deal with your stupidity.”
Kitchen did not return requests for comment on that matter.
Jettie Newkirk, Travick’s attorney, said this week that the suit is essentially at a standstill.
“Right now nothing is going on,” said Newkirk.
Newkirk said the suit’s defendants – which also include Robert Bynum, Norman Bynum, Sadiki’s Restaurant Inc., and West Oak Lane Ventures Inc. – have filed a number of preliminary objections to Travick’s original complaint. Travick has responded, and is awaiting another reply.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story was published very briefly last week. We took the story down to verify details and give OARC a better chance to respond to some of the claims.