Port officials want more accountability from downtown group, which says it will consider expanding board membership
Port Washington city officials and the Port Main Street Inc.’s executive committee met for more than two hours Tuesday to try and work out their differences prior to city budget talks in the coming weeks.
Mayor Tom Mlada said city officials stressed the need for Port Washington Main Street to be transparent and accountable during the meeting, something they have emphasized since the Rock the Harbor Harley-Davidson anniversary celebration in August lost tens of thousands of dollars and put the organization in a precarious financial position.
To do that, city officials stressed the need for Main Street to hold public meetings and follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law as a way to be a transparent, accountable organization, said Mlada, who is also a member of the Main Street board of directors.
It’s important because the organization is funded primarily through tax dollars, he said.
“To me, we ought to be aiming for and asking for public input so residents can voice their opinions,” Mlada said. “Anytime you have taxpayer dollars in the discussion, it just makes sense.”
Main Street Board President Jim Biever said the organization has always held open meetings, except when dealing with personnel matters and contract negotiations.
“I think we’ll probably have our bylaw committee review what we have to make sure it reflects that openness,” he said.
The Main Street bylaws called for the group to operate under the state Open Meetings Law until this summer, when it was amended to allow closed meetings for a number of reasons. Biever said the change was an effort to simplify things for members unfamiliar with the state law.
Mlada said the city also stressed the need for Main Street to expand its board, bringing in new members who would provide different viewpoints.
“That’s not an indictment of anyone currently serving on the board,” he said. “There would be real value to expanding the board.”
As many as five new members could be appointed, Mlada said.
Biever said the board is poised to appoint two new members on Monday to replace Rob Helm and Maria Kiesow, whose terms are up.
Four candidates are being considered to fill those spots, he said.
Adding more members “could be a possibility,” Biever said. “We’ll have to see how the board feels.”
The Main Street board will meet Monday, Oct. 14, and members will work to finalize its 2014 operating plan and budget in preparation for its appearance before the city’s Finance and License Committee the following week, Biever said.
“We’re assuming we’ll be full funded by the Business Improvement District and city,” he said. “We’re committed to doing the right things for downtown businesses and property owners.”
Main Street receives $58,000 annually from the downtown Business Improvement District, which assesses a tax on downtown property owners, as well as a $25,000 contribution from the city.
But with Main Street members talking of a potential deficit from Rock the Harbor of as much as $30,000, aldermen last month said they wanted to see changes and accountability from the organization before they approve any funding for 2014.
Biever said the Main Street board will likely know by Monday what the losses from Rock the Harbor total.
Tensions between the groups haven’t decreased since then, something that was especially evident last week when the city said it would appoint members of the BID board to comply with state law — something it hasn’t done in recent years. That news prompted Biever to suggest the BID consider disbanding.
Tuesday’s meeting, however, seems to have relieved at least some of the tension.
“We’ve worked through that,” Biever said of the BID membership issue.
“I think everyone in the room agreed to move past our past issues and move forward.”
Mlada and City Administrator Mark Grams concurred.
“We aired things out, and that was good,” Grams said.
Mlada added, “They heard our suggestions and they certainly seemed receptive to them.”