Glenwood council postpones decision on arts contracts | PostIndependent.com

Glenwood council postpones decision on arts contracts

The city lease for the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts building is in question in the aftermath of audit findings that raised financial questions for the organization.

Glenwood Springs City Council will wait until next week, after a scheduled Aug. 1 meeting of the Glenwood Arts Council and general membership, to decide whether to sever contract relations with the nonprofit organization and end the lease for the arts center building.

At the same time, the city is moving ahead with creating an arts and culture advisory board to promote the arts and recommend how the city can provide various arts education programming and events.

City Council had been prepared at a special Wednesday night meeting to give notice ending the city's monetary support for the arts council by Aug. 23, and terminating the lease agreement for the Center for the Arts building on Sixth Street by Sept. 22.

In doing so, as proposed, the city would take over arts programming in the facility and pay teachers through the city, while the arts council continues to rebuild the organization after recent financial troubles surfaced.

The proposed move comes on the heels of an audit of arts center finances that detailed thousands of dollars of "likely unauthorized" expenses by former executive director Christina Brusig, along with other questionable expenses and possibly misappropriated funds, while racking up $11,750 in non-sufficient funds fees over two years.

"The organization is functionally bankrupt at this point … and there is a question whether they can continue to perform the terms of public arts contract with the city," City Attorney Karl Hanlon said in explaining the recommended move.

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"You have, if you choose, enough basis to terminate these agreements," Hanlon advised.

However, the city will allow the arts council time to prepare a response to the financial concerns and present a case for remaining in the facility and providing programs on its own.

The arts council is planning a general membership and board meeting for next Tuesday to discuss the next steps, including possibly revamping the board itself.

One outcome will be some recommendations on the benefits of having the arts council continue with the fall programming plan versus the city, said Charlie Willman, the attorney for the arts council.

"You have made some assumptions about what the board did or did not do in last several years, and we need the opportunity to present our side of the story," Willman said in requesting that the city postpone action on the contracts.

City Council will resume consideration of the contracts at its regular Aug. 3 meeting, but some council members are leaning toward ending the city's support for the organization, at least as it's currently structured.

"I'm not in favor of continuing the contract with the current board that's in place," Councilor Shelley Kaup said. "We have a responsibility to the citizens with these funds and to take proper care of those funds.

"I'm personally not comfortable continuing to fund the organization when this happened on their watch," she said. "We need a reset."

Historically, the city has used a portion of its special acquisitions and improvements tax funds to support the arts council and the operation of the Center for the Arts.

Starting in about 2011, the annual monetary contribution was increased from $35,000 to $50,000 and the executive director's position came under the city.

That, and the arts center's $10-per-year lease agreement represent a significant contribution to the operation, Hanlon observed.

The city also gives grants to the arts council for specific programs or events, such as the Summer of Music series and $10,000 earlier this year for the council to secure public art to be displayed around town. That particular grant is now unaccounted for, Hanlon said.

About 30 people attended the Wednesday meeting to urge the city to remain involved in supporting the arts council and keeping the arts center open.

"The arts center is the heartbeat of the community," long-time arts center supporter Jack Green said. "Bottom line, we need a place to meet and have programs, or we lose our soul here."

Sandy Haber, one of the teachers at the arts center and supporter, liked the idea of the city advisory board on the arts and suggested Glenwood Springs follow the lead of other towns and cities that have found ways to partner with arts organizations.

Arts center supporter and musician Louis Girardot said the loss of city support for the arts council would be the organization's death knell.

Glenwood has done a good job of establishing itself as a family tourist destination, he said, "but what bridges that and gives the city its heart is the arts.

"We have this small checkered period where things haven't gone so well," Girardot said. "People do make mistakes … put us on probation, whatever, but we will keep raising money to keep this going."