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CDC website: principals respond to rumors and controversy

Charged with economic development in Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation appears to have stumbled somewhat in following through with its mission.

At issue is the CDC website that went “live” last month and how the contract for developing that site was awarded to Bone Marketing, a Web development company in Baton Rouge, La.

According to a letter presented to the Archuleta County Board of Commissioners by Commissioner John Ranson (who also serves on the CDC board as the BoCC’s representative), “The CDC engaged Bone Marketing to develop the CDC website in the fall of 2010. The CDC minutes reflect that the CDC Board was informed of the selection of Bone Marketing for the website development in October, 2010.”

Ranson’s letter was presented as an answer to allegations that the contract came at the exclusion of local website development companies and that the contracts were the result of an implied relationship between CDC Executive Director Steve Vassallo, Vassallo’s wife, Rosie, and Bone Marketing.

While the CDC considered developing a website, it seems few local vendors were contacted regarding the potential for work. Furthermore, the CDC board did not advertise to local companies that it was looking for Web development services.

“I don’t know exactly what kind of an announcement was made by Alysha (Lister, marketing director for the CDC),” said Steve Vassallo. “I do know some contacts were made, locally.”

Vassallo said that he had been contacted by a Durango Web development company, but felt uncomfortable employing them.

“They didn’t have experience doing CDC websites,” he said.

However, that was not the case with the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, which reported that their website was done by a Durango Web developer.

CDC Chair Mike Alley said that, as the board considered development of the site, it contacted one other developer other than Bone Marketing.

“We got a deal from a guy in Telluride,” Alley said, adding that contact was made based on a previous referral.

However, when asked if any Web developers in Archuleta County were reached, Alley replied, “No.”

Alley said that Bone Marketing was suggested to the board by Steve Vassallo and that the board made the decision to employ the firm because, “That’s all they do, is economic development.”

However, a quick search of the Bone Marketing website reveals that, while the company has experience developing websites for several economic development organizations, the company pretty much does what almost all Web development companies do: develop sites for various for-profit, nonprofit or not-for-profit companies — for a price.

So far, the CDC has paid Bone Marketing $4,560 for the development of a website, according to Lister. However, according to Bone Marketing CEO Brockwell Bone, not only has no money been paid to Rosie Vassallo, “We really haven’t solidified anything on paper.”

That second allegation — an improper relationship between the Vassallos and Bone Marketing — appears to be without substance.

“When I was out there in early November presenting and meeting with them (the CDC board), Bone said, “I thought I might like to open an office in Pagosa Springs.

“I thought it would be a great community to expand to,” he added. “With the qualifications of Rosie, I thought it would be a good fit,” saying that he hoped she might do well, “representing us out there as a sales representative.”

Rosie Vassallo said that she has yet to do any work for Bone Marketing.

“I haven’t done anything yet,” she said. “Working on the Great Golden Retriever Roundup is taking all my time. Plus, I’ve been busy painting, preparing for an art show in Texas in May.”

As for Bone, he expressed some second thoughts about a Pagosa Springs expansion.

“With all that’s been said and these allegations, I’m wondering if it’s really a place where I want to do business,” he said.

Bone added that a few simple phone calls to the parties involved would have cleared up any doubts, avoiding invented controversy in the matter.

Although the CDC could have certainly proceeded with a little more tact when pursuing the development of its website — widely publicizing a Request For Proposal, soliciting bids from local vendors on a larger scale — nothing about the process suggests an intent to ignore local vendors, especially as the board was specific in its search for developers with some experience with economic development sites.

Furthermore, while the CDC board might have avoided allegations of an improper relationship by being more forthcoming regarding Rosie Vassallo’s seemingly casual relationship with Bone Marketing, nothing suggests any kind of quid pro quo between the Vassallos and Bone.

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