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That's a Wrap 

By Hank Sims

We have received notice that some local videographers are massing to storm the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors next week in response to the "Rebranding Humboldt" YouTube campaign we wrote about a couple of weeks ago ("Rebranding Humboldt," June 25). The videographers, we understand, are more than a little incensed that out-of-county talent was hired to shoot the series of spots, which seek to promote a more "positive" image of Humboldt County than the one that actually exists -- that of a place where the streets are paved with cannabis indica.

Lest we be accused of inciting this mob with false facts, we would like to let the videographers know that we have discovered that certain aspects of that story, while not wrong, could be a bit misleading. We reported that the "Rebranding Humboldt" project has a budget of some $96,000 -- $44,000 of which came from the county's ever-controversial Headwaters Fund for economic development, another $40,000 of which came from a federal grant. These are the figures we got from the Humboldt County Economic Development Department, and they are still correct, so far as we know.

But it seems that there is more to "Rebranding Humboldt" than the YouTubes -- there's gonna be logos and packaging studies and a bunch of other cr... uh, stuff. According to Humboldt County Film Commissioner Mary Cruse, who led the film side of things after her agency won a bid to produce the spots, the Headwaters Fund only chipped in $10,000 to the YouTube project, with local businesses also kicking down a still unknown amount.

It's maybe natural that Economic Development gave us the sum total of their project, which may have led to the misleading perception that these quasi-government types were dropping $100 large on some YouTube videos. I had assumed that was the case, after reading Ryan Burns' story; only when I went back and read it did I realize that Burns had phrased things slightly more cautiously. Now Cruse is feeling besieged by the insurgent videographers, so we want to make the above facts crystal-clear, whether or not those facts can or should make any difference in the argument. So we do apologize for any confusion caused.

But it's all a bit galling, because Cruse pointedly refused to discuss her own portion of the budget when Burns asked her to do so before the fact. The numbers we had from Economic Development were the only accounting of taxpayer dollars spent on this project available. On Tuesday, I asked her why she declined to disclose to our reporter the amount of public funding she had received for this project.

"It just didn't seem like the right time," Cruse said. "I wanted to wait until we had all the facts in. I didn't want to give just part of the story -- I wanted to give the whole story. The people who have worked on it have worked so hard, and it's been a remarkable collaboration. It's been beautiful. And now people are trying to make it into something ugly."

There's maybe one other bit that needs clearing up, here. The Humboldt County Film Commission is supported almost entirely by taxpayers' dollars. Cruse herself has an official title: She is the Interim Humboldt County Film Commissioner. And yet the film commission itself is technically a nonprofit organization, not a governmental entity. So despite the quasi-official status of her agency, she may technically have the legal right to pick and choose when to disclose how, where and why she is spending public money.

Also, it appears she doesn't comply with the strict bidding procedure of a public agency. In this case, Cruse said, she did hire many local citizens to work on the "Rebranding Project," but the director of photography for the project does live in Los Angeles. (Though she called him a "part-time" Humboldt County resident.)

Cruse said she had a whole plan about how to roll the story out. It apparently did not involve pesky people wondering why they didn't get the job, or newspapers asking about the particulars of how much public money was spent. And the way she described it, it really did sound like something else -- almost the subject of a film itself. She talked about an opening night event at the Arcata Theater. There was to have been a Facebook page, where information would be slowly and tantalizingly leaked out in advance of the big night. There would have been an outpouring of thank-yous to everyone who made this project come true. There would have henceforth been a permanent change in the way Humboldt County looks at itself, and the way the world looks at it.

Well, all that is kinda ruined now. Does that make you happy, you awful people? Go smoke your reefers and giggle away. When these spots hit YouTube, boy -- then we'll see who gets the last laugh.

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Hank Sims

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