Editorial: State of the River District still uncertain

September 15, 2010

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

After the emergency meeting of the River District Membership last Thursday, Sept. 9, at the Brew House on the River Building, 200 Prairie St., at 5 p.m., which I called at the urging of various members of the association, I felt good about its conclusion.

I made a motion for a vote on a meeting where the River District’s current board of directors status would be addressed for modification or a request for resignation by the membership. My original intent was to make the motion solely for resignation; according to the sentiment of the members present, I modified it.

After much discussion, the vote failed to gain a majority. Because proxies were not signed by all members present, the vote was nonbinding; or, as I prefer to call it, “advisory.” A total of 79 members were present, and only 27 voted for my motion. I said the membership has spoken, and we’ll all see what the future will bring.

However, more comments keep coming in to me that members are not satisfied with the vote and the manner of the board members who spoke at the meeting.

I myself did not hear an apology to the membership for making such massive decisions without consulting the membership. Various board members stated they were trapped by finances and circumstances and had no choice.

I still assert they should have seen this coming and asked for help from the membership.

I am really on hold with my final decision about whether or not I can support the River District. Much will depend on the formal meeting to be held at a still unspecified time in the future.

Apparently, as you will see later on, the board has been talking to many organizations; but as a new River District member, county board member Paul Gorski has said, “It seems to me that they should have already scheduled a meeting, if only to say here’s the agenda before you talk to the mayor. You may not have all the answers, but talk about it openly with the membership. I’ve always thought the River District was a positive influence downtown.”

River District Board President Emily Hartzog has told me repeatedly that the River District would not be folded into any other organization.

I’m just going to hold any further comment and just present what various River District members have said, as well as the latest releases by the River District.

So, very sadly after all these years and after so much effort by so many good people, more than ever, I am really realizing that nothing is as it seems, and many of the players are not out in the open.

Listen to the entire meeting, judge for yourself

The entire meeting was recorded by Jason Ssg (yes, that’s his last name) of Raging Pervey Gear Productions, who also provided the sound system free of charge for the evening. Thank you! Call him at 815-963-2861 because he has quality gear and is a great sound man.

Many thanks to Lloyd & Diane Koch for donating the rental of the Brew House on the River Building and their manager Chris Manuel, who can be reached at 815-218-3784 if you’d like to rent that wonderful space at a very reasonable rate.

Also, thanks to Kryptonite owner Chris Wachowiak and Medicine Man co-owner Sandi Kohn for their many efforts and support.

I also thank all the members of the River District and its board of directors who really care and attended.

To listen to the entire meeting, complete with the first 20 seconds of set-up, go to http://www.mediafire.com/?eei93ss73dbj9i9.

Marge Bevers’ Comments on RDA predicament distributed at Sept. 9 meeting

→ What I have to say is not personal, but based on 40 years experience as [an Executive Director] ED of 4 NFPs and service on 3 boards, including RDA.

→ I start with the assumption that everyone has the best of intentions.

→ I would like to look at performance against goals.

→ The primary responsibilities of a non-profit board are 3:

1. Hire/fire/work with ED

2. Working with ED, raise funds & oversee budget/finance

3. Long-range or strategic planning in keeping with mission/vision. With membership organization, added responsibility here to consult members if you want to make a change in direction

I’m not going to comment on the personnel responsibilities. I would like to comment on financial/fiduciary duties and strategic planning.

→ FINANCE

→ We were told in a letter this was not a cash flow problem but long term due to the apparent intent of the city to defund RDA in the future; this statement was repeated to me during a conversation with the president.

→ Unable to meet obligations this month, it clearly is a cash flow issue.

→ However, it also is a long-range problem with the City Council intent to defund.

→ But long-term problems preceded city defunding: clear last year when a board member loaned the organization $$$ to cover bills (later reimbursed).

→ Only 2 ways to balance a budget: reduce expenses and/or increase income…

→ During my tenure on the board 4-5 years ago, I noticed a lack of focus on fund-raising as a board duty and a penchant to balance the budget by setting unrealistic revenue (event and fund-raising) goals.

→ Today, I understand RDA was offered rent-free space a number of months ago. You did not accept. I don’t know what the rent costs are, but if they are only $200/month after two months to cover phone/internet changes, you would have eliminated that expense.

→ You could have reduced staff by cutting the PT position months ago but elected not to do that.

→ You chose to drop OTW as revenues dipped over the past few years, but retain Red Ball/Forever Summer which I believe required 5-figure sponsor investment to produce $4-5K. I would suggest the sponsors $$$ could have been pocketed as donations at a high level sponsorship and save the volunteer hours for another fund-raiser.

→ Who maintained the cash flow for the organization? Where was the financial accountability?

→ STRATEGIC PLANNING & LONG-RANGE GOALS

→ There has been discussion at the Board level about possible merger or realignment with other like-minded organizations. (For a group with failing finances, not a bad thing to consider).

→ When were you going to talk to the members about this?

→ Sometime in the last year, the Board dropped 2 committees, encouraged members to join an RRDP committee.

→ Not a bad idea, but when were you going to mention this to the members?

→ I understand that there has also been some discussion on the board about the goals and strategies to accomplish the mission. In support of our mission, RDA for some time has focused on:

1. Marketing downtown and its business/residential opportunities

2. Advocacy

3. Networking & events (cheerleading)

→ Because I was interested in “bricks & mortar” and was getting involved in economic development, I resigned the board but continued as a member because I believe these are the goals of the membership—and worthy ones!

→ My departure coincided with RDA joining the Illinois Main Street program. I think I was the one “no” vote as I saw this as added duties and a distraction from the basic goals of RDA.

→ Now, word that RDA has moved into economic development with a vengeance, accepting $100K offered by Congressman Manzullo for distribution of SBA loans. And the board is anxious to continue without a staff to assure these funds (which may or may not be transferrable) stay in Rockford. I believe there are some things worse than losing a grant.

→ Why accept this money, which is such a departure from historic activities?

Especially when you have to form partnerships with other organizations to distribute? (I assume that means the RDA will simply be a placeholder for the $$$, not the distribution agent.)

→ Why not deflect the offer to agencies more suited/experience in this work?

→ AND WHEN WERE YOU GOING TO TALK TO THE MEMBERS about this change?

Based on RDA board performance on these two key responsibilities, I think it is time to resign and let ALL the members meet to decide where to go from here.

River District Board of Directors e-mail of Sept. 8, 2010

River District Association Members,

Thank you to all who came out on Thursday night for the meeting held at the Rockford Brew House. The board would like to acknowledge and thank Frank Schier, Chris Wachowiak, the staff at the Rockford Brew House and all the volunteers who helped coordinate the event. (For those of you who could not attend, we have included a link to the Frequently Asked Questions from the evening.) While the discussions were difficult, the board feels that we are now in a better position to work together to move the organization forward.

Over the past week, board members have met with the RACVB, RAEDC, RRDP, The ELEMENT, Mayor Morrissey and County Board Chairman Christiansen. The goal of these conversations has been to define how all of the groups can work in concert more effectively and efficiently to reach the shared goal of a revitalized downtown.

Within a week, you will be receiving a notice for a Special Membership Meeting. On the agenda for discussion will be short-term and longer-term options for the River District Association’s operation. We hope that all of you will plan to attend and participate in shaping the vision for the future of the RDA.

Reply e-mail of River District member Lynn Belles

I am personally bothered that the apparent sole purpose for re-organization, and discussion about folding into another organization is to receive government funding.

You all don’t seem to have a vision of existence without government assistance.

That said, are you all on food stamps?

Can you not figure out how to survive on your own?

Is the government the only source of funding that you are in touch with?

If you would figure out how to survive on your own, then you would control your own destiny. The government could not withdraw your livelihood like they just did.

Having said that, Kim should have had a greater effect preventing her own job loss.

I hope that I begin to hear discussion of new creative ideas that will bring River District back to life without a government bail-out or umbrella agency.

Lynn

Belles Firm of Architecture, Inc.

A Perryville Place

6957 Olde Creek Road Ste #2300

Rockford, Ill. 61114

(815) 961-0504

River District Board of

Directors e-mail Sept. 14, 2010

RDA Members and Supporters,

In our effort to keep you engaged in the process of revitalizing the association, we want you to be aware that for the next 60 days, and perhaps longer, River District will have free storage and office space at the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau’s downtown office at 102 N. Main St. RACVB will also assist the association with certain administrative functions such as answering the RDA phone and e-mail. Both organizations are open to a longer-term arrangement and partnership, given the support of their respective boards, members and stakeholders. However, right now the priority is to ensure certain short-term needs are met.

“We began having conversations with the RACVB about co-locating and the associated benefit of having our two organizations in the same space in 2008. With the financial challenges facing the RDA, the plan was accelerated,” said RDA Board President Emily Hartzog. “We are grateful to the RACVB for welcoming us.”

“River District Association is an important player in the ongoing work of revitalizing downtown Rockford. RACVB wants the association to thrive and is happy to help in this transition, and perhaps beyond,” said John Groh, RACVB president/CEO.

The RDA will be moving out of its office space in the Morrissey Building on Saturday, Sept. 18. Volunteers interested in assisting or donating supplies may contact Maureen Flanagan at (815) 963-0531 or mflanagan97232@yahoo.com for more information.

From the Sept. 15-21, 2010 issue

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