ENCNITAS — Funds were released by the city to the Encinitas Chamber of Commerce to pay for Visitor Center operations during a special City Council meeting Nov. 2.
In a divided 3-2 vote, with Councilwoman Teresa Barth and Councilman Jerome Stocks opposed, the council agreed to pay the chamber for Visitor Center-related expenses dating back to June.
The council also voted to form a subcommittee to review the existing contract with the chamber and suggest any changes to the existing contract or possible termination. Barth and Councilman James Bond were selected to sit on the subcommittee.
The city entered into a 13-month agreement with the chamber in April that reduced its annual payments from $91,500 to $80,400. However, the new contract required the chamber to produce an independent financial review of its records within 60 days. The document was not released until September. Because of irregularities in the report, the city manager’s office asked the council for direction on how to proceed.
The city has provided financial support to the chamber for Visitor Center operations since 1994. Since that time, the location has changed along with board members and executive directors.
Pat Reinhardt, the Visitor Center manager, encouraged the council to continue funding. While she agreed that some modifications to the operations of the center could be made, she stressed the need to maintain a presence. “The Visitor Center is vital to Encinitas,” she said.
Mike Andreen, a former board member and contractor with the chamber, advised the council to terminate its contract with the chamber, as it had failed to produce a true financial “audit” of the Visitor Center finances. He showed clips of the April 15 council meeting where the word “audit” was used to describe what was expected of the chamber. Yet, the contract the city signed does not include the word “audit.”
Andreen and former chamber CEO Gary Tucker said the document produced by CFO-To-Go unfairly targeted them. Andreen characterized it as “dismaying, disrespectful and hurtful.” He vowed to exhaust every legal remedy to restore his reputation. Andreen told the council he filed a complaint asking the grand jury to investigate the center’s finances.
The chamber’s new CEO, Marshall Weinreb, told the council it costs approximately $6,700 a month to operate the Visitor Center. After taking the helm on July 15, Weinreb said he has worked to sort out the mess that was left by Tucker and Andreen. “Frankly, this entire drama has burnt us all out,” he said.
The council was split on how to handle the situation. Bond said he was satisfied with the documents given to the council. “What I care about is what we have before us,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to get involved in all the personalities at the chamber.”
Councilman Dan Dalager echoed Stocks’ sentiment that the chamber, a group charged with representing the interests of businesses in the city, was in some ways “beholden” to the city because of the funds it receives to operate the Visitor Center.
Barth characterized the relationship between the chamber and the city as “convoluted.” She said the city had been negligent in its oversight capacity and should address the issue of a possible misuse of taxpayer dollars. “I think the city bears some responsibility in this situation,” she said.
Mayor Maggie Houlihan said discussion of possible financial misdeeds by former management as outlined in the CPA report exposed the council as a whole and individual council members to possible litigation by Andreen who has threatened to sue.