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No insurance sinks Founder's Day

By all accounts, last November's Founder's Day celebration was a big undertaking.

It was the first time the city had celebrated its founding as a community in 1918, when Ransom Eli Olds, inventor of the Oldsmobile, filed the first plat at the Pinellas County Courthouse. Founder's Day organizers pulled out all the stops for the 75th anniversary with events and entertainment, even a videotape chronicling Oldsmar's history. Several hundred people attended.

But whether Founder's Day will ever return is in doubt.

The second Founder's Day, which was to be celebrated today and Sunday, was canceled because organizers were unable to get liability insurance. The two-day folk festival was to be a somewhat smaller version of last year's event, with music and food at R.E. Olds Park.

Underlying the insurance issue is a conflict over whether enough accounting information was provided from last year's Founder's Day celebration. Two council members asked for a list of contributors and their amounts, and how much the celebration had cost the city government.

Councilman Jon Macdonald, a Founder's Day organizer, said there wasn't sufficient time left to supply that information, obtain city backing and still put together the event.

"It would have been a great, fun weekend," he said. "It's a sad situation. It really is."

Last year, the city's liability insurance policy covered Founder's Day. But committee members withdrew their request for city support this year after vice mayor Rosemary Wiseman and Mayor Jerry Provenzano asked for the details.

When the question went before the City Council last month, members postponed a decision so the city manager could research last year's cost to the city for Founder's Day.

The financial report from last year's Founder's Day included a list of donations, income and expenses, including an $1,800 donation toward the construction of an arts and cultural center.

But Wiseman and Provenzano said that wasn't enough.

"We got back a document which I personally found lacking. Anytime we spend public taxpayer money, I believe we're entitled to an accounting," Provenzano said. "From my perspective, I believe the City Council was ready to grant the request, had we gotten the documentation we asked for."

"That took me within four weeks of the event," Macdonald said. "I could not work within the time frame that the mayor and the vice mayor forced me into."

The Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce offered to provide Founder's Day with liability insurance, but its insurance carrier later said it could not support the event.

With Founder's Day three weeks away and still no liability insurance, the committee canceled the celebration. After returning the funds raised for Founder's Day, the committee disbanded.

Macdonald believes Founder's Day was unfairly singled out. He said Provenzano and Wiseman had no right to know who the Founder's Day contributors were or how much they donated.

"I will not do it unless I have permission from them (contributors). Nor will I do it unless there are legal grounds for it," Macdonald said. "Mr. Provenzano and Ms. Wiseman are the only ones who asked for it. All it is, is strictly political harassment and I'm just about fed up with it."

Wiseman disagreed. She said the financial reports submitted by other organizations and events that get city support are much more detailed than the one received from Founder's Day.

"It's not singling anyone out," Wiseman said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't ask the same people for money over and over again. That's why it's always a good idea to know who gave what. All we really got were totals."

Wiseman said that in a lean budget year, she felt obligated to ask such questions. She questioned whether a community of Oldsmar's size and resources could afford to support two major events _ Founder's Day and Oldsmar Days _ annually.

Wiseman also said she thought Founder's Day was to be a one-time 75th anniversary celebration.

"I'm not going to just give blanket approval to anything without finding out how much it's going to cost," Wiseman said.

Macdonald said he hopes Founder's Day one day will recover.

"I would hate to see this thing die," Macdonald said. "When you put in a lot of work . . . and then have the rug pulled out from under you, it's just a little too much."