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Travel Bureau Not Reporting Finances

POSTED December 10, 2013 4:34 p.m.

The oft embattled Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau remains out of compliance with its directives, this time for failing to follow a council mandated timeline for its bi-annual reports on finances and their business plan.

The Oakdale City Council formed the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District in 2009. As a result hotels and motels in the city charge a 7-percent room tax every time they rent a room.

In May 2012, the Oakdale City Council agreed to provide revenue from 2-percent of the tax assessment to the OTVB to carry out the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District’s (BID) business plan. A condition of receiving those funds was that the OTVB would provide a report to the city council every six months.

To date, more than 18 months later, only one report has been made – on April 15 of this year.

During the April 15 city council meeting, OTVB Administrator Ramona Howard reported that the OTVB received over $61,000 for 2012 and expectations for 2013 were greater.

She did not explain why the report was delivered more than five months overdue.

“I’d like to schedule a time to talk with you to talk about the OTVB and all we’re doing,” said Howard when contacted by phone about the delay again, “but right now we’re really busy with the Old Fashioned Christmas event.”

Howard confirmed only one report had been made to the council. The date she stated she was available for discussion about the matter was after press time for this week’s issue.

Minutes from the May 2012 Oakdale City Council meeting when the agreement was entered into show that then-OTVB Treasurer Has Panchal said the reports could be provided “every three to six months” if needed. The council, after discussion, agreed that they would be given a presentation every six months.

“There’s a contractual obligation that’s not being followed,” said Oakdale City Councilman Farrell Jackson. “When you do that, you need to stay online. It’s not been done.”

Jackson added that the council is responsible for monitoring a number of things and would expect the OTVB to remain on schedule without them having to call for it. At its last meeting, the council called for city financial reports to be delivered monthly because they had reverted back to being months overdue again.

“It’s definitely a concern,” said Councilman Tom Dunlop. “It (OTVB) is not doing its original purpose. I don’t know how we got to where we are.”

Dunlop agreed that the council currently is more focused on other city financial issues such as Measure O and PERS funds but that the OTVB should maintain their responsibilities.

“We should dissolve the group or just let them be their own group,” Dunlop said. “There’s an aura of them wanting to do their own thing.”

Dunlop said he wasn’t an advocate of public-private partnerships and it seemed that “certain politicians” were giving the group favoritism in how they operated.

“The group seems to be picking only their favorites for promotion and deciding who or what group is a winner and who is not,” said Dunlop.

The BID advisory board is comprised of the city’s four hotel operators and three “at-large” members appointed by the council.

The OTVB and BID has had a history of chastisement by the city council.

Last year both boards came under scrutiny when there were concerns by councilmembers that the same persons were leading both organizations. City Attorney Tom Hallinan also stated that having the same leaders for the two bodies was a potential conflict of interest.

In March 2011, two members of the BID also 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.”

Last August OTVB Administrator Howard and Councilman Jackson exchanged jabs over the city park alcohol ban. Both claimed their statements, where they criticized the other, were made as private citizens and not part of the official city-related roles they now hold.

 

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