Council may sever ties with Uptown district
The Susanville City Council voted 4-1 to direct City Attorney Peter Talia to start work on the procedures to formally disband HUSA. As a result, the HUSA board of directors will have to return all of the assessment fees it has collected from its members.
“We’re not closing the organization, we’re closing the district,” said Mayor Kurt Bonham.
At the June 18 council meeting, the council agreed to set HUSA’s assessment rates for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, under the condition that the rates would be suspended until a report was made by Talia at the Sept. 17 meeting, regarding what Talia referred to as HUSA’s viability. In other words, HUSA was given about 60 days to prove its worth to the council.
During those two months, Talia said he talked with multiple business owners, board members and members of the community to give a true evaluation of HUSA’s role in the Uptown area.
“I have found that, though HUSA appears to be plagued by disagreements among those that are within the district, the general feeling among staff, business owners and other citizens is that the Uptown is better off with the district than not,” Talia said in his report. “I have also found that people just want to be heard and to hear from the board. Communication and participation are the keys to success. With them, HUSA will succeed and without them it will maintain mediocrity at best.”
Talia recommended against the council’s complete disbanding of HUSA. He recommended that whatever decision the council came to that allowed for HUSA to continue, it give direction on including expenditures for promoting tourism.
HUSA member Richard Sorem, owner of the Roseberry House on North Street, was one of the only HUSA members present at the meeting. He refuted Talia’s point about including tourism in the expenditure budget, claiming that it wasn’t one of the original goals of the organization.
“About 30-35 percent of our business is state (employees) coming up,” Sorem said. “Another third is locals, and the other third of the business is tourists. But they’re not tourists for Susanville. They’re going through Susanville on their way to someplace else. We get very few actual tourists (for Susanville) other than during the Bizz Johnson marathon. If we don’t get the tourists who want to stay in Uptown Susanville, that’s no reason to dissolve an organization that’s been around for 18 years.”
Sorem said the original purpose of the organization for the first 15 or 16 years under the Streets and Highways Code was to set up parking. Sorem said since he’s been on the board of directors, it hasn’t been possible to do that.
He discussed the possibility of putting banners over Main Street, yet the city wouldn’t allow banners over Main Street.
Councilmember Joe Franco agreed that attracting tourism to Uptown wasn’t necessary for a number of reasons, including the area’s location at the bottom of Highway 36.
“I really think that trying to attract tourists who are traveling through town pulling a trailer behind them loaded with camping equipment, to take advantage of the recreational opportunities we have in this community are going to stop in Uptown,” Franco said.
Councilmember Vern Templeton was the only member of the board who voted to keep HUSA, saying that from what he had seen in the last two months since the June 18 meeting, HUSA had made significant improvements and could still serve a valuable purpose in the community.
Councilmember Lino Callegari said this community has tremendous resources at its disposal, and an organization like HUSA should have been part of the business of selling Susanville to the outside world. Callegari has voiced his displeasure with HUSA at city council meetings since he served as mayor, including the June 18 meeting, where he said the 60-day period was like giving the organization one last chance.
“To me, speaking for myself, not even as a councilperson, it (HUSA) looked like it was a selfish organization, formed by a few that wanted power and control of that power for a long time,” said Callegari
Susanville Mayor Kurt Bonham said one of the many things he was concerned about was confirming HUSA’s status as a non-profit organization. Bonham explained he saw a discrepancy on HUSA’s 501 (c) (6) status, when certain documentation presented to the council also listed the organization as a 501 (c) (3). The correct clarification would determine what kind of federal income taxes HUSA would be exempt from as a non-profit. Bonham said it was very important for HUSA to get that status issue cleared up before the next meeting.
Talia also said that the first sentence of the Streets and Highways Code said that the city council should have been appointing HUSA’s board members since the beginning of the organization.
Bonham addressed Sorem directly during the council’s comment period, stating his reasons for supporting HUSA’s dissolution. He explained how when he went to one of HUSA’s meetings, he listened intently to everything that was going on in the organization, but he didn’t see much interest from the members.
“I listened to the meeting not only to see the mood of the people, but what was actually going on,” Bonham said. “Whether you’re a 501 (c) (3) or a 501 (c) (6) makes no difference. You guys didn’t have accounting records for at least a year. I’m very much opposed to these types of mandatory assessments to organizations that are unresponsive, which have no members. If you’re going to take my money, I have to be able to tell you that I don’t like what you’re doing.”
Talia said that a lot of the blame for HUSA’s failings rested with how the city council had handled it in the first place, to which Bonham said he agreed.
Bonham then said the Uptown businesses are critical, because it doesn’t reflect well on the city if they fail. Callegari then said that if the council had made an error with HUSA, then it is now time to correct it.
The council will formally discuss the process and take action on whether to dissolve HUSA or not at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 1.
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