Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 17:45
Citing lack of trust in group, finance committee opts not to allocate usual $25,000 contribution
Port Main Street Inc.’s request for $25,000 from the city to finance its operations next year was rejected Tuesday by members of the Finance and
License Committee — the first time since the organization’s inception five years ago that it will not receive city funds.
There are too many differences between the two for the city to continue funding the group, committee members agreed, including the makeup of the
Main Street board and the role of its executive director.
“We’ve come up with a lot of things we don’t agree on,” Ald. Dave Larson, the committee chairman, said. “Maybe it is time the city steps away and
allows you to run your organization the way you see fit.”
It’s also a matter of trust, Larson said.
“Main Street doesn’t have a lot of trust in the city, and the city doesn’t have a lot of trust in Main Street. That makes it difficult to move ahead,” he said.
The group’s response to the loss of what Main Street members said was roughly $20,000 on Rock the Harbor, an August celebration of Harley
Davidson’s 110th anniversary, was also cited by the committee as a reason for its decision.
Main Street has yet to take responsibility for the situation or develop controls to ensure the situation doesn’t repeat itself, committee members said.
“My constituents have said clear and crystal, ‘Why are you giving money to an organization that didn’t have controls to keep it from losing $20,000 for
an event?’” Ald. Doug Biggs, a committee member, said.
Jim Biever, president of the Main Street board of directors, said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting he was surprised and disappointed by the
“We don’t have a plan B yet,” Biever said. “We’ll have to adjust our budget appropriately. We’ll scale back a few things. Right off the bat, I can’t say
what those things might be.”
Marcia Endicott, a member of the Main Street board, questioned whether the city supports the organization.
“Would you like Main Street to dissolve?” she asked committee members. “That’s what I’m picking up tonight.”
Committee members said they value what Main Street has done for the community but question its checks and balances, particularly in the wake of
the Rock the Harbor losses.
While the committee recommended cutting the city’s subsidy for Main Street, aldermen left intact the $1.84 per $1,000 assessment it imposes on
downtown property owners to support the Business Improvement District. The assessment generates about $60,000, with $55,000 typically allocated to
Main Street for its operations.
However, in reviewing the BID budget Tuesday, the committee stressed that it wants the organization to more closely oversee the use of those funds.
“We don’t want that to continue,” agreed Scott Huebner, a member of both the BID and Main Street boards. “The group (BID board) feels there needs
to be accountability.”
Biggs said he wants the BID to require Main Street to pay off its debts and make up its deficit before it receives any BID funds.
“They have to be whole before they get a dime,” he said. “They’ve got to get 2013 sorted out.”
Committee members recommended the $25,000 previously spent on Main Street be earmarked for economic development throughout the city.
“This city needs more industry,” said Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of the committee. “I think it’s just time to move on and spend this on developing the
entire city and trying to draw industry here.”
All the downtown businesses combined won’t hire 100 additional people in the coming years, he said, but one large industry might, and that would
help support the community as a whole and the downtown businesses that make up Main Street.
However, aldermen said, the funds could also be used to help finance a Main Street project in the future if necessary and appropriate.
The Main Street budget presented to the Finance and License Committee predicted the group would take in $142,000 next year, including the
$25,000 city contribution and $55,000 from the BID.
The bulk of the rest of the revenue would come from events and fundraising. Biever noted that the budget anticipates significantly more in fundraising
proceeds than have been collected in the past, showing a commitment by the board of directors.
But aldermen were skeptical of the group’s ability to meet the fundraising goals.
“These are aggressive numbers,” Biggs said.
The expenditure side of the budget shows Main Street spending $134,800, resulting in a surplus of $7,200 by the end of next year.
Biever told the committee that the budget also anticipates that Main Street will end 2013 with a deficit of $2,500, provided its Comedy Night is
successful and brings in the expected $4,000.
However, committee members noted that the organization hasn’t paid $3,000 it awarded to businesses in facade grants this year, bringing the total
deficit to $5,500.
Tuesday’s discussion largely centered on Rock the Harbor, which put Main Street in a precarious financial position even though the organizers had
promised repeatedly that the event would not tap into the organization’s funds.
When asked, Biever said the festival probably cost Main Street $20,000, adding commissions are continuing to trickle in so final numbers aren’t
available. All the bills from the festival are in, he added.
Main Street officials repeatedly said many businesses had record profits during Rock the Harbor, Larson said, suggesting the organization try to get
these businesses to make up the projected deficit.
“I would think you could collect that $5,500 easily and they would still have record days,” he said.
Main Street did approach businesses for funding but was unsuccessful, Biever said.
“That’s surprising,” Biggs said. “It seems a few businesses benefitted and an entire organization took it on the chin.”
Larson said the city has asked the Main Street board to be accountable for the mistakes of Rock the Harbor, but hasn’t seen any tangible results.
“You talk a lot about lessons learned and accountability,” he said. “We asked the board to look at itself. We used the term ‘blow up the board.’ I think
there should be some reorganization of the board.”
The committee questioned what Main Street is looking for in a new director, and whether the $36,000 salary is enough to attract the quality candidate
the position requires.
Dan Micha, a member of the Main Street board, said the new director should be charged with raising enough money to cover the cost of his salary,
with a bonus proportional to additional funds the director raises.
Larson questioned this, noting the National Main Street Center specifically says fundraising is a board function, not a job for the executive director.
The committee also asked about the board’s decision to omit a requirement to follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law from its bylaws, and its
decision Monday to reinstate it at the city’s prompting.
“The fact it took so long makes me nervous,” Larson said.
“It was a mistake on our part,” Biever said. “It blew up in our face.”
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 18:49
Two Port Washington-Saukville School District teachers have submitted resignations effective next week — unusual moves made well after the start of the school year that will force the district to rely on longterm substitutes until replacements can be hired.
Scott Oftedahl, band director at Thomas Jefferson Middle School since 2009, is leaving to become the technology and assessment coordinator for the Germantown School District, according to an Oct. 2 resignation letter.
The school’s former longtime band director, Loey O’Keefe, will serve as the long-term substitute, Principal Arlan Galarowicz said.
Angela Haendel, a speech and language specialist at Dunwiddie Elementary School, is resigning for personal reasons, according to a letter she sent Supt. Michael Weber on Oct. 4.
Both resignations are effective Friday, Oct. 25.
In another unusual move, the School Board met in closed session Monday to review the performance of both teachers before voting in open session to accept their resignations.
The district will fine the teachers $1,000 each for resigning after the start of the school year as allowed under their contracts. Typically, staff resignations are approved by Weber and confirmed at a later date by the School Board.
“It’s very unusual for this district to have to deal with resignations at this point in the year,” Weber said. “Because of that, I didn’t feel comfortable accepting them.”
Board President Jim Eden requested the closed session so the board could examine the performance reviews of the teachers before accepting the resignations, Weber said.
“We needed to look at this closely because these resignations will create challenges for us,” Weber said.
At the middle school, Galarowicz said, it was fortunate that O’Keefe, who retired as the school band director in 2009, was available to fill in.
Shortly after O’Keefe’s retirement, Oftedahl left his position as principal of Kennedy Elementary School in Grafton to become the band director at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. A band teacher before he went into administration, Oftedahl said at the time he wanted to return to the classroom and pursue his love of music.
In his resignation letter submitted this month, he apologized for “the timing of this announcement,” but said the Germantown position opened up only shortly before school began.
To fill Haendel’s position, another reading specialist will assume some of her duties and a long-term substitute will fill in until a replacement can be hired, Weber said.
“Speech therapy is a hard position to fill, but we already have two candidates in mind,” he said.
“We’re sorry to see both these teachers go, but we’ll be fine.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 19:02
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.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 18:10
Membership move by Port officials prompts organization’s vice president to say disbanding business district is an option
A move by Port Washington officials to control membership on the Business Improvement District board has so upset Jim Biever, the board’s vice president and president of Port Washington Main Street, that he has suggested the BID should dissolve.
That would effectively end Main Street, an organization credited with reinvigorating downtown Port, but one that has been the subject of controversy after its August Harley-Davidson anniversary celebration lost thousands of dollars and put the program in a precarious financial position.
That’s because the BID, which raises its money through a tax imposed on downtown property owners, provides the majority of funds — $58,000 annually — for the Main Street program.
Biever said that after watching the Common Council meeting on television Tuesday night, he wrote an e-mail to BID board members suggesting the move.
“I never thought I would say the following words: Before I see the mayor and council completely ruin the efforts of concerned business and property owners, I strongly suggest we take action to disband the Business Improvement District,” his e-mail read.
“All options are on the table,” Biever said in an interview Wednesday. “I was just making them aware of the options.”
The suggestion has prompted a significant amount of discussion already, Biever said.
“I wouldn’t say anybody’s embraced the idea yet,” he said, adding most board members are confused by the Common Council’s actions and motives.
“What happens is going to be determined by the direction the mayor and council want to see the downtown to go,” he added.
At Tuesday’s meeting, aldermen were told by City Administrator Mark Grams that appointments to the BID board had not been made in accordance with state statutes in recent years.
State statutes call for appointments to be made by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
“There is a process that must be followed,” Grams said.
But once the Main Street program was created, the city failed to follow the rules and make the appointments, Grams said. Instead, the BID board made its own appointments.
In addition, he said, city codes call for the board to have 11 members, including the alderman who represents the BID district.
Currently, there are eight board members, including Jim Vollmar, a former alderman who used to represent the district, Grams said. Some of the board members were approved by the council years ago, he said, while others were never approved by the city.
“We really do need to correct those things,” Grams said, adding the council will likely act on the matter at its Oct. 15 meeting.
But Biever, who has served on the BID board for all but a few of the 19 years it has existed, said the issue that he blamed Mayor Tom Mlada for caught the group off guard, causing confusion and frustration.
“I don’t consider it wise politics,” he said. “He should have come to the board and let us solve the problem or at least be part of the solution. We know downtown, what works and doesn’t.”
When the BID was started, he said, the only control the city had was to approve its operating plan.
Biever said the idea of dissolving the BID “is not the plan A, B or C. It’s the plan that’s way out there. But if the city were to cut the funding or the BID funding were to change, what’s the alternative?”
Dissolving the BID is a relatively simple process, he said, requiring the owners of properties that make up half the district’s assessed valuation to petition for dissolution.
“I’d hate to see it,” Biever said. “I think of the BID as good for downtown.”
But, he added, a new organization representing downtown business and property owners would likely take its place — albeit one without the roughly $60,000 in funding raised through the BID tax.
“I would think it would take maybe hours for people to step forward and form a new organization,” Biever said. “It’s just not going to be dropped.”
While a new board may not be able to offer the same variety of events that Main Street has, he said, it could provide the core offerings that draw people to downtown, such as the farmers market.
The BID board membership is likely to be just one of the topics tackled next week when city officials meet with members of the Main Street board.
Both Biever and Mlada said they hope the session will help the groups reach a consensus on the direction for Main Street and BID and set the basis for the Common Council’s budget talks later this month.
Aldermen recently expressed frustration with the Main Street board after learning the Rock the Harbor-Harley festival in August lose as much as $30,000, essentially draining the group’s reserves.
Former mayor Scott Huebner, who helped found the Main Street program, told the Common Council Tuesday that the city’s call for answers about the festival is important.
The city needs to be “the voice of reason and push for answers from our Main Street board,” Huebner said.
The group seems to have strayed somewhat from its initial focus on economic restructuring and downtown development to festivals, he said.
Huebner also said the council needs to ensure that Main Street remains open and transparent, especially since the city has traditionally contributed $25,000 annually to the group, making it the second largest funding source for the organization.
Main Street recently removed a clause from its bylaws requiring it to follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, Huebner said in an interview, replacing it with a less restrictive clause that opens the door to “secret, back-door” meetings.
“As a taxpayer, I would highly recommend the city not work with an entity that is not transparent,” he told the council.
Biever said that the change was prompted by a desire simplify things for members unfamiliar with the state law.
The new bylaws call for most meetings to be open, he said, except when discussing personnel, contract negotiations, litigation or deliberations that could be detrimental to volunteers, building or business owners, board members or others affiliated with the group.
“Anyone’s welcome to attend our meetings,” Biever said. “I don’t envision having a closed session anytime soon. We have nothing to hide.”