2017-03-17 / Front Page

City adopts policies for funding events

Council debates whether city leaders can sit on boards that receive funding
By Stephanie Sumell

Public perception was at the heart of a discussion among members of the Camarillo City Council as they debated a proposed rule that would ban council members from sitting on the board of any Camarillo-based nonprofit that receives city funding.

The new rule, proposed by Councilmember Tony Trembley, was met with resistance from the other members, especially Mayor Jan McDonald, longtime president of the Camarillo Arts Council, which hosts the summer Concerts in the Park series.

Also discussed was the fact that Councilmember Mike Morgan has been a longtime board member and a former president of the Camarillo Fiesta Association, which puts on the Camarillo Fiesta and Street Fair in the summer. He said his involvement with the Fiesta was largely due to the lack of other volunteers to lead the association after former president Rob Capellini embezzled money from the organization.

After much back and forth last week, the council, with Trembley dissenting, adopted a policy establishing guidelines that had been drafted by city staff for funding community events put on by Camarillo nonprofits. It did not include the caveat prohibiting council members from serving on the board of a nonprofit that receives money from the city.

The council then voted 5-0 on a motion to consider prohibiting council members from voting on giving money to nonprofit groups for which they hold a leadership role.

It then passed a third motion, with Councilmember Charlotte Craven dissenting, directing the policy committee to discuss the prospect of requiring there be no more than one council member per local nonprofit board.

Trembley said that while council members’ involvement in nonprofits “can only be a good thing,” they needed to make sure residents don’t get the wrong impression. He said his remarks were not directed at any one person.

“We as council members are in a position to decide on providing city support to various nonprofits,” Trembley said. “Although there might not be a legal conflict of interest, I think . . . we need to be careful that we don’t create a perception that nonprofit organizations are receiving city support because council members have leadership positions in those organizations.”

McDonald said she does not put on the summer concert series for her own personal benefit or for political reasons.

“If I was going to do something for political purposes,” she said, “I would not have spent nine weekends out of every summer of my life for the past 20 years out there in that park to help put on the concerts at the park.”

McDonald said she’s brought stability to the Camarillo Arts Council, disputing the idea that council members have “undue influence,” because five council members—not one—vote on what groups to give funding to.

She said it is common in other cities and counties for elected officials to serve on nonprofit boards.

The mayor said she’d be willing to consider whether council members should abstain from voting on events put on by nonprofits they serve, an option the other council members said they were open to.

“You can always find the naysayers. You can always find the people who want to complain, and rarely do you see those people come forward to do work,” Mc- Donald said.

Regarding Trembley’s suggestion that council members not serve on boards the city gives money to, she said, “If we’re going to adopt this (motion), I will guarantee you that unless someone walks through that door right now (and volunteers to take over the arts council), you won’t have a concert season.”

Morgan touched briefly on the embezzlement scandal involving the Camarillo Fiesta Association, a situation that drew public scrutiny.

He said he became the temporary board chair of the association after the discovery of the embezzlement because “nobody else wanted to do it.” He said the money wasn’t taken by an elected official but by a volunteer who took over the job.

Morgan, who has since stepped down from the head spot, said he’s OK with not allowing council members to serve in leadership roles for nonprofits but thought making them resign from the boards they were on was going too far.

Craven began her remarks by saying that the sort of events thrown by local nonprofit groups are generally put on by cities. Those events, she said, should not suffer simply because an elected official may do the lion’s share of the work.

“For a long time I thought, you know, we shouldn’t be funding things we’re a part of, and then as I sat and watched, I haven’t seen a whole lot of people coming up, stepping up and wanting to take over huge efforts,” she said, later adding, “I would see that the consequences would be that we wouldn’t have Concerts in the Park and we wouldn’t have a Fiesta and I think they’d come to a halt very quickly.”

Councilmember Kevin Kildee said he appreciated Trembley’s bringing the issue up but he could not support the motion.

“When you look at . . . the hours and hours that are put into these events that we do, it seems to me that we kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater here. . . .” Kildee said. “I appreciate this discussion. I think it’s long overdue . . . and perhaps we need to look at something a little further, but I think to say that they can’t serve is a bit premature.”

Whether the City Council will change its policy remains to be seen.

“I think it’s a good, healthy thing to have this conversation,” Trembley said.

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