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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Renaissance bid for recertification prompts frank talk at council about relationship with the city

Story and photographs by Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

It may have looked like a routine agenda item, but Midway Renaissance’s application for state re-certification met with probing questions and edgy responses Monday night at the Midway City Council meeting.

The two-hour session brought to a head a series of simmering disputes between Renaissance, which now has three members on the six-member council; and the three holdover members and newly re-elected Mayor Tom Bozarth.

In a meeting that crackled with more than the usual discussion, the officials began work on creating closer connections between factions that want to head in the same direction but have appeared to be on different tracks.

“What I really see here is just a lack of communication,” Bozarth, left, said after hearing the council debate various aspects of the state survey response that he and Renaissance must both sign for re-certification, as well as discussion on interaction between the two groups.

Council Member Becky Moore, a Renaissance board member and former mayor, was on the hot seat as she fielded most of the questions from other members and Bozarth. “How do we get past the grudges?” she asked at one point, quickly adding, “Not grudges; let’s back up.” Later, she said of the survey response, “I do want to thank you all for reading all of this.”

Council Member Sharon Turner said council members got the survey response form only a few days ago, and Renaissance’s monthly reports should be sent to council members so questions can be asked as concerns arise. Moore said all the information is on the Renaissance website, but Bozarth said, “How hard would it be to e-mail a set of documents to City Hall?” Moore replied, “No problem,” and later, Arnold said, “I will plead with them to put you all on the list . . . ”

Turner, left, also asked why Renaissance had not adopted the recommenations that state Auditor Crit Luallen made for transparency and accountability of nonprofit boards performing public functions. Moore replied, “That’s a small thing to take care of. . . . If that is something you would like, that’s no skin off our back. . . . I think we’re very comfortable with what she recommended.”

Bozarth pointed out that he and Renaissance had formed a joint committee to work on issues and “develop a good working relationship,” but it stopped meeting after the council approved Renaissance’s latest work plan. Notices of the last two meetings are here and here.

“The dialogue needs to be started, and it needs to continue,” Bozarth said near the end of the discussion, adding that the council and Renaissance must “make this a better relationship than what it has been over the last three and a half years.”

Moore and Council Member Joy Arnold, right, are on the Renaissance board, and the other newly elected council member, Dan Roller, is a past member of the board. Council Member Doris Leigh told Moore and Arnold, “I feel a little bit uncomfortable with you all being on the Renaissance board and on the city council. . . . Don’t you think this is a conflict of interest?”

Arnold said no, because she and Moore have no financial conflict, and noted that she had campaigned on a promise to represent both organizations. (The council election was not contested because three members ended up not seeking re-election.)

It was noted that the mayor was once an ex-officio member of the Renaissance board, but that chair was dissolved in 2009. Marcie Christensen, Main Street manager for Renaissance, said in an e-mail to the Midway Messenger that the board voted to abolish positions filled solely by virtue of an office, including Renaissance’s immediate past president. She said there was consensus “that all Board members should want to be members and not required to be,” and indicated that the change made it easier for the board to have a quorum.

videoLeigh, above, said she found many shortcomings in the survey prepared by Renaissance; noted that the group has 48 dues-paying members, only 2.4 percent of the city’s population; and questioned why it mentioned its concern about deteriorating buildings, which she said is a city function. (Video clips by Hongchul Yun, University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications)

videoMoore, above, said Renaissance has many more volunteers for its activities than it has dues-paying members who elect its officers, and remains interested in its founding purpose, the improvement and advancement of downtown. “It’s not to usurp anybody’s authority,” she said.

Some downtown merchants have voiced displeasure with Renaissance’s recent relocation of the annual Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival from Midway College to Equus Run Vineyards, three and a half miles from downtown, a topic that Turner brought up. Moore said “That was a very, very, very carefully considered decision,” and Renaissance is committed to keeping the festival “focused on downtown Midway.”

Moore pointed to the $2.4 million in grants that Renaissance has channeled to the city and the recent $15,000 grant for a market study. The grant includes the hiring of consultants to work with merchants in developing strategy.

Turner said “a critical missing point” for Renaissance is participation by merchants. Moore said the group has begged mercants to participate, and “Anybody who wants to serve on the board is welcome, and particularly we want to have merchants.”

Noting that Francisco’s Farm had a $93,000 budget last year, and lost $3,000, Bozarth said he didn’t understand exactly how Renaissance is funded and functions with the festival. “Is Francisco’s Farm becoming Renaissance?” he asked, adding that he had more questions for the group, which he would put in writing.

City attorney Phil Moloney said the council could authorize Bozarth to sign the survey form without holding a special meeting to review additional information. Turner disagreed with that approach, asking, “How can I vote on what’s not there?” and noting the lack of a Renaissance treasurer’s report.

It was agreed to have a special council meeting to review the additional information before the Feb. 18 deadline for submission to the state. Bozarth said he would aim for next Wednesday, Feb. 16, perhaps during the day.

Turner, noting conflicts of the past two years, said the nature of the relationship needs to change. “Nothing personal,” she said. “We need each other.”

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