South By Southwest Conference…another waste of taxpayer $


What is the South by Southwest Conference anyway? South by Southwest (abbreviated as SXSW and colloquially referred to as South By) is an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

Based on our review of the 2018 Minutes, Mark Rantala (Executive Director of the Port Authority) attended this conference last year. The registration cost is over $1,000 and that does not include airfare, hotel and meals for a week. We won’t know exactly how much Rantala spent going to that conference in 2018 until the Port Authority produces copies of the credit card receipts and expense reports that we requested.

This week, Peter Zahirsky (COASTAL MANAGER) is in Austin, Texas representing the Port & Economic Development Authority in Lake County, Ohio at this really cool, hip and VERY progressive conference. We don’t know what type of badge he purchased, but here are the options…note badges begin at $1,325 this year. We won’t know how much Zahirsky spent in airfare, hotel, and meals for an entire week until a later date; but we are guessing this will cost the taxpayer between $3,000-$3,500 before it is all said and done. We just have one question…

WHY WOULD A COASTAL MANAGER BE GOING TO THIS CONFERENCE? If the taxpayer is expected to pick up the tab for these government types to go to conferences, shouldn’t the Coastal Manager be going to conferences that more directly relate to his job duties…you know…as Coastal Manager?

So is Zahirsky a Coastal Manager or an economic development employee? Is he both? Philosophically, the Coastal Manager can be both, i.e. economic development could in some cases be a by-product of coastal development, sure. Maybe the Coastal Manager position really is more of a part time job and Zahirsky focuses on economic development the other half of the time? So why then is the Visitors Bureau paying for a Coastal Manager’s salary and pension to the tune of $75,000? You know…because of the Coastal Plan and all. Again, we believe that this is not allowed under the ORC as we told you in Port Authority and Visitors Bureau…joined by a Coastal Manager and the ORC.

So is the Port Authority more focused on economic development than coastal development…or does that just apply to dredging? Or maybe that just applies to some communities and not others. It’s soooo confusing.

If the Port Authority’s focus is economic development, why have a Coastal Manager? Why pass that 2% lodging tax increase to be used for coastal projects managed by the Port Authority? Besides, the airport is their port, right? And the Port Authority is laser focused on getting the airport to the point of being self-sustaining, right? Maybe that is why Zahirsky is spending thousands of dollars of taxpayer money going to SXSW…because the Coastal Manager needs to focus more on Economic Development and maybe airport stuff. That’s got to be it!

Maybe we missed it, but we didn’t see anything in the different workshops or talks relative to airport master plans or making an airport self-sustaining. We did see this faith based series which was a bit concerning.

There were some workshops on block chain technology, but Cleveland already held the Blockland Solutions Conference in December 2018. We understand both Rantala and Zahirsky attended that sold-out conference which drew 1,700 people. Cuyahoga County beat us to the punch on that…Lake County was too busy wasting $300K on The Better Flip Project. But maybe…just maybe there was something new about block chain technology at this SXSW Conference in Austin.

There were plenty of government type workshops…you know those economic development ones. Take a look at the featured speakers lineup for this ultra-progressive conference. Our favorite little dah-ling from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was there. She was able to get a photo-op with her fav Bill Nye the Science Guy. AOC didn’t disappoint…she blasted Reagan as a racist and called America garbage, so there’s that.   We are not sure if there was a picture of Karl Marx that one could stand next to for a selfie…..

Below are just a few more of the featured speakers that jumped out at us:

  • Congresswoman Stacey Abrams
  • Pricilla Chan (Married to Mark Zuckerberg)
  • David Feinberg (Google Health Efforts)
  • Susan Fowler (NYT)
  • Democrat Presidential hopeful for 2020 and former Gov. of Colorado John Hickenlooper (w/BuzzFeed)
  • Senator Mazie Hirono
  • Valerie Jarrett
  • John Kasich
  • John Boehner
  • Media darlings Jake Tapper and Trevor Noah
  • Independent 2020 Presidential hopeful Howard Schultz (ex-CEO Starbucks)
  • Comedian has-been Kathy Griffin (holding severed head of President Trump…remember?)
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • CNN President, Jeff Zucker
  • Julian Castro, Sec. of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama

******We are not sure if there was a picture of Karl Marx or Lenin that one could stand next to for a selfie…..we may put it in the suggestion box for next year.******

LFC can’t wait to attend the upcoming Port Authority Board Meeting at the end of the month. We are very much looking forward to hearing what Peter Zahirsky, Coastal Manager, learned at SXSW on our dime.  thumbs down image


Categories: Lake County, Port Authority, Uncategorized

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