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Travel Bureau Moving In Different Direction

POSTED August 7, 2012 2:32 p.m.

Nearly three months after being advised by city leaders to have a separate board of directors than its business improvement district members, the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau seems to be ignoring the city’s direction.

At the May15 Oakdale City Council meeting, an agenda item was discussed that would provide funds from the city’s 2 percent assessment on lodging businesses transferred to the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau (OTVB) to carry out the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District’s (BID) business plan. The BID advisory board is comprised of the city’s four hotel operators and three “at-large” members appointed by the council.

During the council’s discussion, there were concerns by councilmembers Tom Dunlop, Kathy Morgan, and Mike Brennan that the same individuals were leading both organizations. City Attorney Tom Hallinan, Jr. also stated that having the same leaders for the two bodies was a potential conflict of interest and could be regarded as “a problem because it is now on the record.”

Additionally, Finance Director Albert Avila said that the OTVB needed to be a non-profit organization to be the operating entity of the BID.

In approving the funds transfer, the council members favored not having the same members on both boards and allowed them time so they could be separated and established.

According to those contacted within the OTVB and BID, the boards have not taken any serious steps in making a separation of leaders.

The California Secretary of State shows that the Oakdale Travel and Visitors Bureau was registered with them as an active business on March 29, 2012. The listing shows Virginia Camacho as the agent and contact for the organization. Camacho is an at-large appointee to the BID.

Minutes from the last two OTVB meetings show no mention of separation from the BID board. Ramesh Mistry is identified as the OTVB chairman and Has Panchal is identified as the organizations treasurer. Mistry and Panchal are local hotel operators on the BID commission. Camacho is also listed by the OTVB as its Secretary.

When contacted on July 31, Panchal confirmed he was still operating as the treasurer and had no knowledge of any separation of duties.

On Aug. 2, Mistry confirmed that he was the chairman of the OTVB.

“I am not aware that we cannot be on both,” said Mistry. “No one has given us any direction that we can’t. We have an attorney working on our by-laws right now and nothing was said about that.”

“I don’t know if they’ve changed things yet,” said Oakdale Finance Director Albert Avila, who is the city’s staff contact for the BID. “I don’t know where they are in their non-profit status.”

After a recognized entity has been formed at the state level, it is customary for the nonprofit organization to seek tax exempt status with respect to its tax obligations by applying to the Internal Revenue Service.

A search by the Leader on Aug. 3, 2012 of official Oakdale non-profit organizations did not show any listing for the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau or similar business. IRS records also do not list the OTVB as a non-profit 501 or 503 organization.

When contacted about the discrepancy, Virginia Camacho stated she was out of town and did not have records with her. She said that the filings were done in March and referred the Leader to the OTVB attorney, Mike Karmini.

Karmini said the California business filing as a “non-profit” was done in March, however the federal 501/503 filing for non-profit status had not been completed.

“Right now it’s just been created in California,” said Karmini.

“There’s definitely an issue here,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop. “I don’t understand where we’re going with them. It seems they’re trying to build their own chamber of commerce with some of their last actions.”

The Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District has not been without controversy.

Early this year there was debate after questions were raised regarding allocation of more than $150,000 in tourism board funds collected over the past three years. Some council members and some members of the public felt the funds weren’t spent as sensibly as possible to get the most return. The city’s Chamber of Commerce, which had administered the funds, stepped down from that responsibility earlier this year, turning the task back over to the city.

In March last year, two members of the BID came under fire by the council for potential violations of the Brown Act when they were accused of calling an unauthorized meeting with only “a quorum of ‘select’ members of the BID commission”

In May 2011, an investigative report found that BID members Virginia Camacho, Bill Houk, Sal Mistry, and Ramesh Mistry discussed commission business under the auspices of a “meet and greet” at the Best Western Ramada Inn on March 2, 2011. Camacho and Houk were admonished for their actions of holding a private meeting in violation of the Brown Act.

The Oakdale City Council formed the BID in 2009. Hotels and motels in the city charge a 2 percent room tax every time they rent a room to finance the tourism board. The tax brings in more than $60,000 annually.

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