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Held Funds Rile Chamber

POSTED June 28, 2011 4:02 p.m.

A decision by the Oakdale Finance Department to hold over $11,000 in directed funds drew ire from the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce resulting in the funds being immediately released.

In 2008, the City of Oakdale enacted an ordinance establishing the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District (BID) with a two percent assessment on hotel room rentals that would go to the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce to promote, market, and attract tourism to Oakdale.

Prior to the May 16 Oakdale City Council meeting, local hotel owners sent a letter to the city council asking that all hotel representatives be included as board members on the BID. The hotel owners also requested that the current transient occupancy tax, which includes a two percent assessment going to the Chamber of Commerce, be used solely for the promotion of tourism and marketing of Oakdale, urging that the assessment portion be frozen until they could decide on the best way for the funds to be spent.

The two percent assessment, which is estimated at $50,000 to $60,000 per year, and the board make-up have been hot items of contention between the hotel owners, at-large BID members, and the chamber.

In March, Chamber of Commerce Board President Doug Heath claimed Tourism Business Improvement District at-large board members Virginia Camacho and Bill Houk called an unauthorized meeting on March 2 with “a quorum of ‘select’ members of the BID commission” for the purpose of trying to remove the chamber’s CEO, Mary Guardiola, from the board.

Camacho later questioned whether a member of the chamber should be on the BID due to a potential conflict of interest as well as if Guardiola was qualified, since she was not a resident of the city.

At the May 16 council meeting Camacho and Houk were admonished for their actions of holding a private meeting, a violation of the Brown Act.

During the same meeting, Mayor Pat Paul asked to look into the current structure of the BID, mentioning the hotel owners’ letter and the request to have funds frozen until a decision was made.

According to Paul, later in the week she contacted City Attorney Tom Hallinan and asked if anything was going to be done about the hotel owners’ request and the freezing of the funds. Hallinan told her he would contact the finance department and put a hold on the funds in question.

“I was just honoring the letter from the hotel owners,” Paul said about following up with Hallinan.

Finance Director Albert Avila said he was contacted by Hallinan and told not to disperse the funds.

“There seemed to be a difference in interpretation in the hotel owners’ request by the mayor and the city attorney,” Avila said.

Hallinan said he was contacted by Paul and asked if the city was going to withhold the funds to the chamber of commerce.

“I remembered the matter being brought up at the meeting,” said Hallinan, “but I couldn’t recall if any action was taken.”

A check of the minutes for the May 16 Oakdale City Council meeting shows no mention of the letter or comments made by Paul even though both the letter and Paul’s comments were reported in the council meeting article of the May 16 edition of The Leader.

“My feeling was to hold the money until it was cleared up or clarified by the council,” said Hallinan.

Heath said he found out that city staff was given direction not to pay the more than $11,000 owed to them for the quarter.

A strongly worded letter sent to Paul signed by Heath states, “If the Council wishes to explore options for how this money is to be spent in the future, then it must do so under the governance policies dictated by the Brown Act.”

The letter reminds Paul of the ordinance and resolution of how the funds are to be used and requested that the matter be resolved prior to the June 20 council meeting.

At the June 20 meeting, Heath brought the matter up to the entire council.

Councilman Tom Dunlap stated he recalled that the mayor only commented about the matter and no action or vote was taken. He questioned why and under what authority the money was withheld.

Hallinan stated the funds would be immediately released to the Chamber of Commerce.

Camacho said the hotel owners feel anxious about the current make up and agree that only the hotel representatives should be on the BID.

“The BID has to be revamped and reorganized to see the best way to fill hotel rooms,” Camacho said. “The chamber at this time is not the best organization (to do that).”

Camacho explained that the chamber and a BID have two different focuses.

“A chamber grows local business and events,” said Camacho. “A tourism board brings outside people in to enjoy amenities of a city.”

“We fulfill what the BID wants us to do,” countered Guardiola. “The Chamber of Commerce just happens to be the organization that implements a plan.”

The next meeting of the BID is July 13, at 4:30 p.m., at the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce where they will discuss the future of the BID.

“It will be nice for us to get on the same page,” said Guardiola.

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