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LA MESA -- The stage was set Thursday to be a good night for the La Mesa Village Merchants Association.
The slate of new officers was set. Twenty-seven thousand lights shined from the trees outside and plans for Christmas in The Village were set to draw thousands once again to the Village streets. Plans for a complete redesign of La Mesa Boulevard were presented by city engineers.
But as is often the case in La Mesa Village these days, undercurrents of dissent surfaced and virtually exploded across this pre-Christmas scene.
Lynn McRea, an accountant and former treasurer of the organization, said she believes the organization is sinking toward insolvency and complained that the board was stonewalling her efforts to get full financial information to evaluate the organization's viability.
"I am not trying to hurt the association," McRea said. "I am trying to get the board to own up to its situation. You are draining reserves and if we don't get things in order, this organization will be out of business.''
Arlene Moore, the organization's president, told McRea new board members had assumed responsibility for the bookkeeping and offered to meet privately to put the problems behind them.
But McRea and a small cadre of other association members were in no mood for what they called "sweeping this under the rug another year'' and continued pressing Moore and the board to address the finances in detail.
"I've been told for two years that they would meet and we'd work this all out, but nothing ever happens," McRea said. McRea was flanked by Jim and Kelly Wieboldt, owners of Unique Travel, and Jonathan Baron, owner of The Regal tavern.
McRea circulated copies of the Merchant Association's IRS filing, required of all non-profit organizations, and the group's most recent financial disclosure. She said a close reading of the documents suggests the group has been deficit spending over the last few years and are now dangerously close to not having the cash to operate their programs.
The association operates the annual La Mesa Oktoberfest, Christmas in the Village, the Back to the '50s Car Shows and an annual Antique Street Faire.
For the most part, the four events all depend on profits earned during Oktoberfest to cover the cost of marketing, operating costs, security and insurance for all these annual efforts.
McRea said the association's books continue to list vendor deposits paid in advance of next year's Oktoberfest improperly as an "asset'' and that makes their financial position worse than it appears in their official financials.
After expenses for Christmas in the Village are registered, McRea said, they will be in deficit.
McRea, a champion of the recent Property-based Improvement District effort, said her criticism of the organization has nothing to do with that PBID effort, but it was clear there are political tensions below the surface here.
McRea, who also serves on the city's Parking Commission, said Deena While, the former treasurer of the Merchants Association, and Bill Jaynes, owner of All Things Bright & British and the new Merchants Association secretary, have spent the last few months attending public meetings, presenting themselves as a "government oversight" effort, while they are both deeply involved in an organization that is hiding its own problems.
"It's disingenious at best,'' McRea said.
Baron said the Merchants Association continues to be operated by a small group of merchants who keep information and decision-making to themselves.
Several of the board members, the critics point out, also now appear on the IRS filings as recipients of sizeable payments for some of their association efforts.
According to the group's 2011 IRS filing, board members Richard Felix ($25,757) and John Vigil ($4,830) were paid for working on Oktoberfest and Christmas in the Village respectively. In all, six board members or their relatives received payments for working on association projects.
Moore eventually ended the meeting, but continued the discussion privately with McRea and the Wieboldts and assured them of follow up meetings.
Almost lost in the kerfuffle were the results of the vote that had taken place earlier in the meeting.
Moore will continue as president. Vigil, the banker who is responsible for the Herculean tree-lighting effort, will continue as vice president. Jaynes was elected secretary and the new treasurer will be Rick Bucklew, the Village's car merchant. Richard Felix, Laurie MacDonald, Laurie Lothian and Elena Lee were also elected to the board. While, the former treasurer, is no longer a board officer.
The merchants also heard an update from La Mesa Public Works Chief Greg Humora of the $5-million redesign project for La Mesa Boulevard in the Village.
Humora outlined plans to stage the construction over an 18-month period in a way that would allow all businesses to remain open throughout the project. That was the good news.
The less-then-definitively good news was that the city has only managed to amass $2.2 million of the more than $5-million it will need to rebuild the street between Acacia and 4th streets (see street sections targeted in yellow below). He said the city hopes to win a $2-million grant from the San Diego Association of Governments next spring and perhaps begin construction by August or September in a best case scenario.
"If I had to guess, I'd say its more likely we'd start construction in January of 2014, but don't quote me on that,'' he said.