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City emails detail nixing Nugent for Longview's July 4 celebration

By Richard Yeakley
April 12, 2014 at 11 p.m.

Email messages among city staffers as Longview was considering hiring Ted Nugent to perform at a July 4 celebration appear to contradict a version of events earlier outlined by officials.

But City Manager David Willard said Friday there is more to the story than can be seen in the trail of emails, and he stood by the city's account.

"To me, the story is one of poor judgment and poor communication between city staff," he said.

The emails, which amount to about 250 printed pages, were received by the News-Journal in response to a public records request for information about the situation that led to the city paying more than $16,000 to break off negotiations with the controversial rocker.

Among the apparent discrepancies is the singular reason Willard nixed the deal.

When news broke March 21 of the payoff, city spokesman Shawn Hara said there were "several factors" behind ending the negotiations. The payoff came as Nugent's earlier incendiary comments and song lyrics were becoming a political issue while he was on a campaign swing with Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.

At the time, Hara said the decision was not just based on concerns about "appropriateness for this particular city-sponsored, family oriented festival" but included the "overall cost and production concerns."

<h3>'Result of the comments'</h3>

But an email sent Feb. 24 by Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center Manager Dixie Golden listed only one reason. That was the same day the city manager learned Nugent was being considered and, with the support of Mayor Jay Dean, canceled negotiations.

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"As a result of the comments made by Ted Nugent last week, the city manager's office has instructed me to cancel the concert with Ted Nugent. Back to the drawing board :-)," Golden wrote to 10 city employees and two residents at 3:48 p.m. under the subject line "Sad News."

Those comments included Nugent earlier calling President Barack Obama a "subhuman mongrel."

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Willard had been notified of the negotiations with Nugent by Hara after Hara returned from a vacation. The decision to end negotiations came on the same day Nugent's booking agents officially confirmed Nugent's appearance for the city sponsored event.

Willard said that conversations throughout Feb. 24 considered all aspects of hiring Nugent and that while his polarizing nature was a concern, the decision was because of a variety of factors.

<h3>First named Jan. 9</h3>

According to the emails, the first time Nugent was mentioned in the context of the Fourth of July event was Jan. 9.

"I was just thinking and wonder what the following are going for? BTO, Cheap Trick, Counting Crows, Five for Fighting ... Green Day, John Mellencamp, Linkin Park, Pearl Jam, Steve Miller Band, Ted Nugent, Moody Blues, Tracy Chapman, U2 - just kidding. I am in a rock mode today!" Golden wrote promoter Stan Allen on Jan. 9.

By Jan. 21, Allen had "feelers out for Nugent," and a Jan. 28 email indicates Nugent was already being considered to headline the event.

When news of the canceled contract became public and gained national media attention, the city said Nugent was "among the many acts that were being considered."

"They were considering other acts. I am not sure exactly how that occurred, but they did consider other acts. They did hone in on Ted, but at what date or exact time or hour, I am not sure I know that," Willard said. "At least in the initial discussion there were other acts."

A concern raised by Longview residents who attended a March 27 City Council meeting was whether the city staff responsible for getting into negotiations were aware Nugent might be inappropriate for an all-ages family event like the 4th of July Freedom and Fireworks Celebration.

The email stream during negotiations showed city staff familiar with the effort knew there was potential for controversy in selecting Nugent to headline the show.

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"I've been thinking about Ted and here are some points if we get hit with negative people: The entertainment industry creates a lot of people who have a platform for their opinions. Due to their popularity, the media broadcasts those opinions. Just think back to the Dixie Chicks! And more recently Phil Robertson. We cannot please everyone with our choices, nor can the entertainers please everyone with their views. Other note ... look at Miley Cyrus. Controversy sells :-)," Golden wrote Jan. 31 to Hara.

<h3>Staff reprimands</h3>

Another discrepancy between earlier statements and what the emails indicate was the extent of City Hall fallout after the flap.

After being told no city employee was fired, demoted, suspended or placed on probation in connection with the actions, the News-Journal earlier reported no staffers had been disciplined.

In fact, Hara and Golden received verbal reprimands, and Director of Community Services Laura Hill, who oversaw the convention center, received a written reprimand and was relieved of oversight of the facility.

A fourth employee also was given a written reprimand after an email response was found through the process of gathering emails to satisfy the newspaper's open records request.

"All because he called Obammy (sic) a 'subhuman mongrel'? Wow. Freedom of speech, denied," Longview IT specialist Cody Kelly wrote after being informed by email of the city's decision.

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Dean said he hopes the city can move past the mistake to tackle looming projects during the next year.

"My focus is on the big picture of what takes place over the next 12 months of my administration to make sure we leave Longview in a much better place than when I took office," he said.

The city has not announced an artist to headline the July event, which the city website says "will feature something for everyone ... including live music, great food, children's activities and more."

Longview staff took over the 2013 fireworks show after a nonprofit organization indicated in 2012 it would end its sponsorship.

Under the city's organization in 2013, the event was expanded beyond fireworks to include a set of tribute bands, carnival rides and other events. That success led city staff to seek permission from the City Council to expand the event and its budget and seek a well-known artist to headline.



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