VENTNOR - The Board of Commissioners has authorized an internal investigation related to the canceled Sandstock Inc.'s Latin Festival. It had been scheduled for last weekend but was denied a special events permit by the city's Recreation Board and subsequently was canceled.
Attorney Frank L. Corrado was appointed by the City Commissioners to serve as the independent investigator and to take any corrective actions deemed necessary as a result.
The facts surrounding the canceled event are uncertain, with contradictory comments and copies of email correspondence coming from Ventnor officials and representatives of the event promoter, Sandstock, Inc.
Ventnor officials claim they didn't formally grant Standstock approval to host its event in Ventnor. Sandstock representatives claim they did.
"There was no agreement entered into between the two parties and nothing was signed," City Solicitor Amy Weintrob said.
But Sandstock representatives said Ventnor officials, namely Management Specialist Tom Quirk, had agreed on behalf of the city to host its event, both in person and via email.
However, Quirk doesn't have the authority to approve special events. All special event applications must be approved by the city's Recreation Board.
On Sept. 10, less then two weeks before the event was planned, the city's Recreation Board denied Sandstock's special event permit application, saying the request was not in accordance with the city's special events ordinance. That rule requires all special events held in Ventnor to be hosted by a nonprofit organization, which Sandstock Inc. is not.
Also, the board said the property where the festival was set to take place was deemed "unsafe," specifically given the size of the event. According to the permit application, 5,000 spectators were expected, while advertisements for the event predicted 14,000 spectators.
At Thursday's commission meeting, Joint Insurance Fund called the city's decision to cancel the festival a relief to JIF Executive Directors Office, stating it was "an avoidance of a selected risk management action."
The Ventnor Recreation Board's Sept. 10 meeting minutes give an overview of the situation from the perspective of Standstock, with spokesman John Groff explaining to the Recreation Board members why the company hadn't come before them sooner. According to Groff's comments, Quirk had informed them the event's approval was already "a done deal."
Originally, the festival was supposed to be held in Atlantic City, but city officials and Sandstock couldn't agree on a set cost and venue, so they reached out to Ventnor. Ventnor City Commission Frank Sarno recommended it be held at 4900 Wellington Ave., a strip mall parking lot privately owned by his friend, Jonathon Vogel.
Taking his recommendation, Groff said, an on-site meeting was set up with Quirk, Vogel, Groff and Sandstock Executive Director David Haislip. After looking at the property, Vogel and Haislip went back to the mayor's office to meet with Quirk, who told them, "I'm gonna take care of it" and that it was "a done deal," Groff said.
An agreement also was made with with Vogel to lease the space for $10,000, Groff said.
Sandstock filed the special events application Aug. 7 and attached a $25 check in a sealed envelop, under Quirk's instruction. Then, on Sept. 4 Groff was asked to attend a meeting with Bagnell, Quirk, Weintrob, members of the city's Police Department and a building and code official. That's when issues regarding safety and a conflict with the city's special event ordinance first came up.
According to the Sept. 10 meeting minutes, Groff said after the Sept. 4 meeting he received a phone call from Quirk saying, "This is not going to be a problem. It's just a paperwork issue." But on Sept. 10 the Recreation Board denied the permit.
Conrad J. Benedetto, Sandstock, Inc.'s attorney, said the cancellation caused his client loss of profit because an unspecified number of tickets already had been purchased and performers and vendors were booked, which now have to be compensated.
Fernando Davila, of Philadelphia, said in a phone interview he had purchased two tickets. As of Monday, he was still trying to figure out how to get his money back.
"I've never been to one of their festivals, and after this, I never want to," Davila said.
Weintrob said the reason the city is investigating the situation is to see what went wrong and if further action should be taken.
"We want to make sure the city isn't in this situation ever again," she said.
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