Questions brought up about the relationship between the City of Turlock and the Turlock Chamber of Commerce were answered at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting, however, not the way that at least one Council member was hoping they would.
A report, commissioned by the City Council in September 2017 and prepared by special counsel Lauren Quint of Meyers Nave, was presented to the City Council clarifying the lease agreement between the City and the Chamber for the building at Central Park, the 2007 Centennial Committee loan and political activities taking place at the Chamber building.
One of the key issues examined in the report was the $1 a year lease agreement the City has maintained with the Chamber for the past 50 years regarding the building located on City-owned land in Central Park.
Following results of a ballot measure in 1966, the City of Turlock leased eight percent of the land in Central Park to the Chamber of Commerce to construct a building on the property. The lease has been amended several times over the decades. In 1982, the City extended the area of the lease to 15 percent of the park land — which Meyers Nave found to be questionable as the original leased land percentage was approved by voters. Also in 1982, the Chamber was supposed to put in public restrooms — a service not available today.
In 1990, the City and Chamber negotiated a new lease that had the building signed over to the City. The most recent agreement was negotiated in 2008, for a lease until 2063, where the Chamber cannot exceed eight percent of the total land of the park. The 2008 lease also allows for subleases for the conference room in the Chamber building.
The report also addresses questions about whether City resources (the Chamber building) were used to subsidize political activities, specifically if the lease of the Chamber office for $1 a year improperly benefits the Chamber’s political action committee, Turlock Action for Business.
Quint said that the PAC is not currently active and that Meyers Nave does not think it poses a “fundamental problem,” having the committee meet at the Chamber building. However, the law firm said the City could consider requesting an advice letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission should the PAC resume activities at the Chamber facility.
“The way legal counsel sees it, the City is essentially the landlord of the building that is in Central Park, which it decided to lease to the Chamber, but who the Chamber allows to use that facility isn’t really the purview of the City right now,” said Quint.
The report also sought to answer questions regarding $90,000 the City of Turlock gave to the Centennial Committee in 2007 that was supposed to be paid back through community donations. Quint said that although the appropriation was listed as a “loan” in public documents, there are no legal documents that lay out terms and conditions of repayment as is standard in any loan agreement.
While the money was given to the Centennial Committee, made up of community members, the funds were processed through the Turlock Chamber Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and has separate accounting from the Chamber of Commerce. The reason the funds were funneled through the Chamber Foundation was so that donations could be tax deductible.
The report found that the Chamber does not owe the City for the Centennial funds because the loan was not made to the Chamber, it was made to the Centennial Committee.
The Chamber has an agreement to pay the City $202,500 in reimbursement for funds misspent during the last five years of the 24-year span the Chamber operated the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Chamber and City agreed on the reimbursement — and the terms of repayment — in 2016 after months of negotiations that included a contract compliance audit by an outside accountant.
The first payment of $675 a month for the next 25 years was supposed to be made in September 2017, but the City did not receive the funds until October 2017, something that concerned Council member Amy Bublak.
Following the presentation and public comment, the Council voted to accept the report. However, Council member Bublak said that a report was not how she wanted to address the issues regarding the Chamber of Commerce.
“We keep letting things drop and we’re not paying attention. This is my entire nine years on Council that this has been coming up and I’m ready to put it to bed,” said Bublak. “I have a huge problem with… having a motion and accepting something that doesn’t mean anything. It’s a presentation…so we’re saying, ‘yes, we all received the presentation.’ For me, the motion has no teeth…I don’t know what we’re voting for here. There should be specific, achievable things here.”
“I don’t have any pause in accepting the report…I would also concur with Council member Bublak that there are things that we need to do to close the doors…if we want to take that loan and just forgive it or figure out what we’re doing with that, that’s fine too. I think there’s shared commitment to keep the discussion continuing,” said Vice Mayor Matthew Jacob.
Council member Bill DeHart said that while they “aren’t going to go back in time” to change what has already occurred between the City and the Chamber, he was willing to work on a committee to consider action the Council could take regarding the information provided in the report.
The Mayor said that at the next meeting he would be appointing Council members to serve on a committee to look into possible resolutions the Council could consider regarding the issues brought up in the report.