Across the state, city established business improvement districts (BID) use public money to support the economic growth of small business communities, playing a significant role in a city such as Oakdale that’s cut back on many basic services.
Under California law BIDs are considered public agencies and are thus required to adhere to the same public records and open meetings laws that the Oakdale City Council, OJUSD or other city commissions must follow.
But even though the Oakdale BID is deemed a “public entity” it doesn’t always act like it and in this case has failed to comply with basic responsibilities of the state’s open records and meetings laws, according to an investigation by The Leader.
The Brown Act requires public agencies to do a few basic things: They must publicly post agendas that include the date, time and location of their meetings along with a brief description of what will be addressed. Agendas must be posted 72 hours before a meeting and must be posted online if the organization has a website.
From documents received, the Oakdale BID held a meeting on Tuesday, July 7 at the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce conference room.
This meeting was not noticed and no agenda was posted publicly or online as mandated.
When inquiries were made to city officials, neither City Clerk Kathy Teixeira nor City Manager Bryan Whitemyer knew of the public meeting or had any reference to it on city calendars.
“My understanding is there hasn’t been any this year,” said Whitemyer, when contacted on Thursday, July 9.
Teixeira also said she was “unaware” of any recent meetings by the BID.
The Leader’s investigation also revealed that the BID and the Oakdale Tourism and Visitors Bureau had a combined meeting last August at Papapolloni’s Restaurant on West F Street. Although the OTVB does not fall under Brown Act regulations, since it was a “combined meeting” with the BID, there was still an obligation to notice and post the agenda.
Minutes for the “OTVB and BID Annual Meeting” taken by OTVB Administrator Pam Dumas show in attendance at that meeting were four of the six BID board members (Has Panchal, Mahesh Mistry, Ramesh Mistry, and Bob Taylor) as well as Whitemyer and Mayor Pat Paul.
“I only remember that being an OTVB meeting,” Whitemyer said.
A review of the August meeting minutes shows that Oakdale Finance Director Albert Avila presented a BID revenue report.
Whitemyer later contacted the Leader and said the last time the city received any notification of a BID meeting was in February 2014, but did confirm that the BID did have meetings on August, 21, 2014 and July 7 of this year.
“I have asked the OTVB staff to be sure to include the City Clerk in future emails so that BID agendas are properly posted going forward,” Whitemyer wrote in an email.
The Oakdale BID was established in June 2008 along with a 7 percent room tax charged by hotels and motels on every room rented. The purpose at the time was “to promote tourism, market conventions, trade shows and sporting events that benefit local tourism and the lodging industry including to market the Business Improvement District interests to the travel industry.”
In 2011, an investigative report found that BID members discussed commission business under the auspices of a “meet and greet” at the Best Western Rama Inn in March 2011. The members were later admonished for their actions of holding a private meeting in violation of the Brown Act.
“We want to help them,” Whitemyer said. “If we need to give them more information and training, we may have to do that.”