LACONIA — After sparring for nearly an hour with representatives of the Weirs Action Committee (WAC), the City Council on Monday night granted the organization permission to raise funds by parking motorcycles at the lot at Endicott Rock Park during Motorcycle Weeks 2016, with the mayor and several councilors indicating that 2017 could be different story.
Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4), who cast the lone dissenting vote, opened the debate, by reeling off three reasons why she would oppose granting the annual concession. She said that other worthy nonprofit organizations should have the opportunity to operate the lot, which returns more than $25,000 a year. Noting that the Weirs Community Park Association operated the lot at the community center, she questioned whether the two groups at The Weirs should manage both lots.
And finally, Baer was troubled that the WAC left the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association (LMWA) rather pay increased membership dues. "Is it too much to ask that they support the event from which they benefit?" she asked.
Joe Driscoll IV, president of the WAC, countered that the request for the parking concession had nothing to do with membership in the LMWA. He said that the mission of the WAC is to improve the quality of life by enhancing the beauty and safeguarding the resources, particularly of The Weirs. which the board of directors decided was "inconsistent" with membership in the LMWA.
The WAC, Driscoll stressed, spent "tens of thousands of dollars" improving, beautifying and maintaining public property at The Weirs. "That's our organizations. That's our mission," he said. Driscoll explained that the increased dues in the LMWA represented 18 percent of the WAC's annual income of approximately $25,000 from the parking concession, without which its mission would be compromised.
Driscoll said that Charile St. Clair, executive director of the LMWA, was unable to address concerns expressed by members of the WAC about its operations, especially its financial management. He said the WAC left the LMWA with the "caveat" that it would rejoin if the financial issues were resolved, but said there were no plans to retire the association's debt.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) reminded Driscoll that the WAC's financing depends on attendance at the rally. This year the city spent more than it received policing and supporting the rally, he continued, but forfeited revenue by granting the parking concession to the WAC. "We'd like you to pitch in and promote the event," he said.
In reply, Driscoll said he was troubled by the suggestion that being a dues paying member of the LMWA "is the be-all and end-all of how the WAC can support the event. You're not asking us to set aside $5,000 to invest in the event."
When Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) intervened, Baer suggested that as a member of the WAC she should recuse herself. Judy Krahulec reminded the council that when she represented Ward 1 and served as president of the WAC, she voted to grant the parking concession. "It's not a conflict."
When Mayor Ed Engler left the decision to Doyle, she chose to leave the council table, speak from the floor and recuse herself from voting on the matter.
Doyle told the council that it requires "30, 40 or 50 volunteers" to run the parking lot and if the city took over the responsibility, it would incur significant costs. She claimed that bikers using the lot were pleased to support a nonprofit organization, but did not want to pay into the city's coffers.
The mayor suggested distinguishing between the LMWA and Motorcycle Week, stressing that to invest in the rally need not require belonging to the association. The rally, Engler noted, "is showing signs of trouble that cannot be taken for granted." The parking lot represents $25,000 that could be invested in the rally. "We cannot give $25,000 to anyone without plowing some of that money back into Motorcycle Week," he said. The parking lot, he continued, could be rented and "you don't get to keep all the money from dollar one."
That brought Krahulec to her feet. "We do it for you," she told the councilors, stressing the time and energy of the volunteers who staff the lot, and "we put the money into The Weirs." She said that without the WAC's donations, enhancements in the Weirs Beach area would cost the city $30,000 per year.
"You guys should be ashamed of yourselves," declared Joe Driscoll, III, a longtime member of the WAC. Describing the LMWA as "the worst organization I've seen in my life," he said that it should "go under". The debt of the LMWA should have been shared between the members, he said, noting that the city of Laconia, town of Meredith and business members need only write a check. then added "you're picking on a little nonprofit." "This crony government crap has got to stop," he exclaimed.
Referring to the WAC, Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) said "I love what this committee does and how you do it," but emphasized that without changes Motorcycle Week would continue to shrink and without the rally there would be no WAC. He called for an ongoing dialogue between the city, WAC and LMWA to address the issues and ensure the success of Motorcycle Week.
Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who had been silent, said that the city "needs to get a grasp on Bike Week" and consider taking ownership of it. "We're coming to the that point," he remarked. "We've got to decide who's going to own it."
"If we're having this same discussion a year from now," Engler cautioned, "it won't be good."
With that, the council voted four-to-one to grant the WAC's request for 2016, with Baer voting no.
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