The Warren Convention Center Authority (WCCA) may have seen its last formal action.
During Tuesday's regular meeting of the authority, the three members voted unanimously to assign the group's rights, responsibilities, and duties to the City of Warren and resign their positions effective at the end of October.
The members didn't want to immediately resign, potentially leaving the impression that they fled their responsibilities and left the city holding the bag, according to authority member T.K. Creal.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Pictured is the site of the proposed convention center on Clark Street. The Warren Convention Center Authority resigned on Tuesday, wanting to avoid additional expenses.
That particular bag amounts to more than $9,500. The authority had $64.78 in its checking account as of Tuesday and total liabilities of $9,613.
However, the members wanted to act to prevent incurring more expenses. The insurance policy covering the authority members is paid through early November. Renewing the coverage would cost $2,400. If the authority were to remain active on Jan. 1, it would require an audit for 2013. The 2010 audit cost the authority about $2,200.
Creal expressed his disappointment that the city had not given the authority any formal, written direction.
"They could give a formal opinion that they don't see a need for the authority to exist," he said. "It will be the city's responsibility... instead of us just walking away. That's why we asked for a formal response..."
Council members John Lewis and Maurice Cashman met with authority member Greg Fraser in September to discuss the future of the organization. While ideas were exchanged and a general consensus was developed, no formal direction came to the authority, Fraser said.
City Solicitor Andrea Stapleford explained that the ball was in the authority's court. "As far as council is concerned, it's not really up to council to force you to dissolve," she said. "It's up to you to take that action."
"The authority is autonomous, so the action should come from them," Assistant City Manager Mary Ann Nau said.
The members have been weighing their options, and the authority's validity, since they learned that an Infrastructure and Facilities Improvement Program grant would not be utilized for the development of a proposed hotel and convention center on Clark Street. The deadline for the authority to accept the grant was April 30. To accept, the authority had to have matching funds in place. Those funds were not available, and the developer, Tim King of Warren Development Group (WDG), said the grant was not needed.
Authority members said their main purpose in not disbanding the group earlier was to try to recover funds. Without a significant funding stream, the authority relied on the generosity of the city to pay its bills. The authority received written confirmation from King that WDG would pay the authority about $16,000. "In our work to move forward we will provide for repayment of all funds advanced to the WCCA by the City of Warren," King wrote.
"If he had not written the letter... we probably would have... shelved the committee earlier," Fraser said.
"We've passed all the deadlines" for repayment, Baldensperger said.
Fraser said the authority could "pursue a small claims action against either Mr. King individually, who I would think is judgment-proof, or any entity he represents."
"The pragmatics of collecting are not promising," he said. "Mr. King has made representations that may amount to promises. There have been a series of liens against the man. There are just no assets to pursue."
"If we're talking about $9,500, how far do we want to go?" Stapleford asked.
The authority members agreed that court costs and legal fees would be required to even have a chance to recoup any money.
Instead of pushing forward on that hope, the authority members agreed to delegate the group's rights and responsibilities to the city and collectively resign effective at the end of the month. That motion was approved unanimously.
"I don't see an alternative without costing additional money," Baldensperger said.
The delayed resignation allows city council a chance to express a desire to see the authority continue. Council meets Monday, Oct. 15.
"If we shelve ourselves, there's nothing they can do except reappoint," Creal said. "Before we just walk away, there needs to be acknowledgment that there's no more need for the authority."
The authority members did not cancel the insurance policy, in case council asks them to continue. If council does not see a need for the authority, canceling the policy "can be one of the city's first obligations," Creal said.
"We've spent over four years as a committee," Baldensperger said. "We were asked to do something positive for the community. Unfortunately, it hasn't turned out that way. We think we have done everything we should have done to keep this thing on track."