Love where you live!
City Will Scrutinize Permit Applicants More Closely
LA MESA -- The City of La Mesa is going to take a little closer look at organizations seeking to use city streets for special events.
The council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to require those seeking special events permits to prove their organization's paper work is in order and that its financial records have been independently audited.
The move was spurred in part by a LaMesaToday.com special report last month that outlined a number of inaccuracies and other problems with the records of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association, one of the two local groups that runs the annual Oktoberfest. Mayor Art Madrid said those irregularities and similar problems exhibited by groups in Rancho San Diego and South Bay convinced the city it needed to do a better job guarding its own reputation when it partners with civic groups.
Madrid described the LaMesaToday.com report as "the culmination'' of a series of problems that brought the issue to the head with the council.
The LaMesaToday.com report outlined a series of problems with the Merchants Association records, including failing to inform the Internal Revenue Service that it was making payments to its own directors with tax exempt money. The organization also acknowledged not having an independent audit nor a written conflict of interest policy. Its minutes lacked recorded votes and there had been no elections of officers for several years.
Since that story was published the Merchants Association has announced in letters to the editor that it had hired an attorney and an auditing firm and was planning elections.
Arlene Moore, the Merchants' Association president, attended Tuesday's city council meeting and reminded the council that the association has successfully run the Oktoberfest for 33 years.
But Tuesday's motion, put on the agenda by Madrid and Councilwoman Ruth Sterling, wasn't dealing with the Merchants' annual request for the Oktoberfest permit. It was putting in place requirements of what all organizations will have to demonstrate if the city is going to grant a permit.
Madrid explained that going forward the city would require of special event permit applicants the same disclosure required of local groups seeking access to federal funds distributed each year by the city.
That includes, among other things, copies of the group's latest audited financial reports, its bylaws and records demonstrating the group's membership.
Members of the Merchants' Association questioned why the the council wanted to scrutinize membership levels while considering a special event permit. The topic has been part of an undercurrent of tension between the Merchants Association and city officials, including Madrid, who have come to see the organization as a small, insular group of business owners, rather than a group operating in the best interest of all merchants.
Deena While, the association's treasurer, pointed out that the organization represents only four blocks of downtown so its membership couldn't grow as large as other organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, that draw members from throughout the city.
But after hearing from several speakers, the council clearly was convinced it wanted the city offices that process permits to assure applicants have their books in order.
The 5-0 vote occurred with virtually no debate among the council members.
The council also voted 3-2 not to wade into the growing "fair trade'' debate, an issue with largely symbolic impact at a local level. Council members had concerns that the proposal would bind the hands of the city in unacceptable ways.
The council also agreed to look into establishing a permanent fund to help support the annual Flag Day Parade, but expressed its desire to keep it privately funded through sponsorships and donations.
Prior to the main council actions, the city also honored the Den 5 Webelo Cub Scout group from La Mesa for its volunteer beautification project at the 9/11 memorial on Dallas Street. La Mesa teacher Alicia McBride was also honored for being named one of San Diego County's Teachers of The Year.
Heartland Fire officials also issued new patches that will recognize each of the cities in the new, combined fire force.
Pictures below show the Cub Scouts, McBride and the new Heartland La Mesa seal.