The Columbus Area Arts Council has amended its bylaws to remove from its executive committee a seat held by a Parks and Recreation Board member.
Despite recommendations from Mayor Kristen Brown against taking such a step, the arts council executive committee voted unanimously last week to remove the parks board seat from the committee.
Parks Board President David Jones, who was that representative, did not attend Thursday’s executive committee meeting where the action was taken.
“A parks board member is no longer on our executive committee. That is simply because our funding is no longer coming through parks,” arts council board president Erin Hawkins said. “It wasn’t about eliminating Dave Jones.”
The arts council also lost parks board member Amy Kleinert, who was on the arts council’s board of directors. Kleinert resigned from her board position, Hawkins said.
Thursday’s arts council meeting was Parks Department Director Mark Jones’ first as part of the arts council general board.
Hawkins said Mark Jones was aware of the changes to the bylaws and that there was no discussion or comment prior to the vote.
David Jones said he wants to review a 1995 memorandum of understanding between the parks department and the arts council, especially if the arts council would like city funding in the future. The agreement was forged by the Commons Board, the city of Columbus, the Parks and Recreation Department, Columbus Area Arts Council and other stakeholders.
The memo says the parks department would provide in its annual budget funding to pay the salaries of the art council’s executive director, assistant director, administrative assistant and bookkeeper. That agreement was made with the understanding that the arts council would program and manage the former Commons building, which was closed Jan. 1, 2008, and razed.
On Aug. 14, Jones added the memo as a discussion item to the parks board meeting agenda so the board could determine with arts council members what the status of the document is and whether the city is recognizing its terms.
When the item came up for discussion, Jones asked if there were any arts council members present — and when there were none, the item was dropped.
Jones said he had sent an email with the agenda and discussion topic to Hawkins, inviting her to attend the meeting. Jones said he did not send the email to anyone else from the arts council.
Hawkins said she was copied in an email from the mayor to the parks board regarding the memo.
“No invitation was extended,” she said. “We were surprised when we watched the video of the board meeting and Mr. (David) Jones indicated that we were invited and chose not to come.
“We did not interpret the email as an invitation,” she said. “We wouldn’t have blatantly ignored an invitation.”
David Jones said the memo of understanding has not been acknowledged by the arts council or the city since the new Commons opened in 2011.
“Some of the parties mentioned in the memorandum don’t exist, and some of the requirements of the memorandum aren’t being fulfilled,” David Jones said.
In the memorandum, the arts council is responsible for programming the Commons but currently is not doing that, he said.
Hawkins said both parties acknowledge the document is out of date and null-and-void at this point.
“They have no appetite to program the Commons. They have moved away from it,” David Jones said of the arts council.
When the Commons was demolished and rebuilt, the city sent out a request for proposal to manage the new space. The arts council submitted a bid but was not chosen, said Karen Shrode, executive director of the arts council.
Shrode said the Commons Board and the redevelopment commission created a request for proposal in early 2008 for the cultural, entertainment and educational program services for the Columbus Entertainment District.
“In April 2008 the arts council submitted a proposal, including a business plan, in response to this RFP,” she said. “Among other things, it addressed management of and programming in the Commons.”
The arts council has received a city grant through the parks department since 1986, according to the parks department. The yearly payments ranged from $77,875 in 1986 to $148,140 in 2013. In 2008, the arts council received nearly $200,000 in city taxpayer money.
The arts council has an “expectation that for years and years we’ve gotten that funding, and so we are going ahead and building programs based upon the expectation of those dollars,” Shrode said.
Despite the uncertainty regarding the document, the city gave the arts council a $148,140 grant it had applied for this year from the city economic development income tax fund.
But in Brown’s proposed 2015 budget, there is no designated funding for the arts council. Instead, the council is required to compete with other arts organizations for about a third of the funding it has usually received.
However, Brown said there is still an opportunity for the Arts Council to get 2015 funding through the Parks Department.
“(The memo of understanding) needs to be renegotiated to come up with something that makes sense,” Brown said. “It comes down to restructuring the partnership.”
Hawkins said the group is thankful for the grant it received this year but that the arts council will have to do some different planning when creating its 2015 budget.
“We will be preparing two budgets,” she said. “We feel like that’s the only responsible thing to do, although we’ve received no formal communication from the city that we were not included in the budget.”
Davis Jones has reached out to the arts council several times since the August parks board meeting to discuss the memo and relationship between the arts council and the city. The arts council received the emails and has chosen not to meet with the parks board. Hawkins said until the arts council knows the city’s plan for funds going forward, meeting would be unnecessary.
“Once the city’s 2015 budget has been finalized, to whom we need to talk and exactly what needs to be agreed upon will be much clearer,” she said. “At that time, we will be happy to have those conversations, but feel like to do so right now would be premature.”