Mateel Board Meeting Foreshadows Local Hardship from the Economic Downturn
The Future of Reggae
Board Member Dusty Houston says, with regard to the Reggae on the River event, the Board has come to an agreement on the following: The Board prefers to lease not sell Reggae on the River. Board Members prefer to have a set cost for the producer that is paid to the Mateel “up front.” The Board is striving to get that amount set at $500,000. The Board wants any future producer to keep local non-profits involved, although, at last week’s meeting, it was acknowledged the only non-profit that ran a booth was KMUD radio. And the Board wants to be certain future producers “keep the festival’s eco-consciousness.”
Houston went on to note that the Board’s timeline is extremely tight. Producers need a full year to put on a show, especially one they have not done before. Two months out of that timeline is already gone.
During public comment, Johanna Rose said that the downturn in the community means that Reggae will not likely ever be the phenomenon it once was. She thinks, given a worldwide economic downturn exacerbated by the local economic uncertainty, that the Mateel’s risk of 2 million dollars to earn a few hundred thousand dollars is an unwise gamble. She advised the Board to sell Reggae while it has enough market value to get the Mateel out of debt and save the hall.
Rose was countered by Bob Special reminding people that Reggae built the hall and that the hall did not build Reggae.
The Magnitude of the Shortfall
The revised figure for the debt is $675,000. No specifics were given directly by the Board about this debt. We know the loss on Reggae for 2017 is $138,000.00. There is the lack of next year’s operational money of around $250,000, payroll taxes are coming due,
roughly $100,000 is owed for the port-a-potty services, the port-a-potty bill remains unpaid, and the Arthur Family rent for French’s Camp is also still not paid, plus the Mateel’s “bridge loan” payments that the Community heard about last month. The amount for next year’s Mateel Community Center operations will likely be reduced greatly, though.
However, Mark Arthur pointed out that the Mateel will owe the Arthur family an additional year of rent whether it holds Reggae again or not. It’s part of the contract that the Arthur’s get an extra year of rent as severance if the Mateel were to choose to abandon the festival before the end of the contract. Arthur also noted that his family is willing to be flexible on receiving payment for both this year and next whether the event moves forward or not.
Agnes Patak gave comment reminding Board Members of the importance of them all understanding profit and loss statements and the general finances of the organization. She reminded them they are all responsible for this, not just the Treasurer.
The General Manager’s Report and Resignation
Justin Crellin, General Manager, reported that non-disclosure forms have been signed by two parties who have an interest in the Reggae on the River event.
The first offer is for sale of the event. Crellin explained, “I let them know the board is not looking at sale presently.” Crellin feels there is “plenty of room to negotiate.” He did not talk about the other potential offer last night. Crellin said to the room of about 50 people, “Nothing is going to move tonight. There is not enough to move on…. A loan on the building is not on the table at this time.”
However, later in the meeting, Board Member Dusty Houston contradicted that statement. Houston said, “It’s not a firm agreement among the Board that borrowing is out of the question.”
During his report, Crellin said that a partnership on the Reggae event seems to be the Mateel’s best option. But, he noted, “This is a huge nut to crack and it is hard to plan for anything with this debt….Getting to the end of the year is questionable….We have $15,000 to pay staff now.”
Then, at the end of his report, Crellin said it appeared that his role as General Manager was adding to divisiveness on the Board and that “what the Mateel needs now more than anything is Unity.”
Much note had been made by community members during public comment about signs that the Board is becoming factionalized. Two former Board Members had spoken of hearing rumors from multiple sources about personnel matters and staff conflicts. Andy Burnette had said “this needs to be cleaned up. It creates a bad vibe.”
Crellin acknowledged the split in his remarks saying “The Board has tough choices to make…. We are seeing factionalizing internally because of these tough choices. My role has become a polarizing force. What the Mateel needs now more than anything is Unity…. I am here to offer support for the future…. You will have my support from the outside.”
Board President Garth Epling responded to Crellin’s resignation. “This brings a tear to my eye honestly. (Crellin) has all of my respect for what he just said… In his willingness to sacrifice himself to move forward.”
Former Board Member Jackie Pantaleo erupted in rage. “Who will take his place and with what salary?” she demanded. Behind the scenes reports indicate Crellin has been working without accepting his salary since Reggae or shortly afterward.
Andy Burnette told the Board that Crellin has been with the Mateel “19 years going on 20.” He also said, “I’d like to say you really have to think about this. No one is more dedicated. … He has the institutional knowledge…from and through the lawsuit. The Mateel used to lose $10,000 a year on the Summer Arts and Music Festival. His actions and ideas are what changed that.” Burnette also said to the Board, “You better look at this room. This is our core.”
One woman, Lynn Ryan, did encourage the Board to accept Crellin’s resignation while bringing the total debt of $675,000.00 to the fore. No one had acknowledged the debt or its full accounting until she spoke saying, “I just don’t want to see the building mortgaged.”
Ryan also said, “This money needs to be dealt with. I also see Justin’s resignation as an opportunity for the Board to step forward….Our economy and sociology have changed and we need to change. I see an opportunity.”
The Board will meet in closed session at a later date to consider Crellin’s resignation.
The Board attempted to conduct its regular business and heard from the Hall Manager, Dan Whyte who told the Board a redwood tree has died near the office and that PG&E considers it a hazard to their lines and will have it removed. He also said the grease traps in the kitchen passed inspection by the Redway Community Services District who are working to bring all commercial kitchens into compliance. And he told the Board, due to limited staff hours during the financial crisis, the power-washing of the hall had been postponed.
At the end of his report, Whyte called on the Board to avoid finger pointing and take responsibility for the current situation. He says Crellin has taken his part of the responsibility and he feels the Board needs to do the same.
The Mateel Meal
Afterward, Mateel staff expressed their frustration with working around the Mateel Meal. This became a two-hour discussion of its own. The Hall Manager said he didn’t care if the meal was served or not served, but that he does care that Policy is not being followed pointing out that volunteers for the meal stay after the program’s hours are ended, that food storage is overflowing and causing the meal to borrow storage from other organizations which he said is not okay. The Hall Manager also said that the Meal means kids’ programs aren’t being supported by the Mateel Community Center.
The Mateel Meal Coordinator, Babette Bach said she has letters of support from every coordinator of a kids’ program that uses the hall. Agnes Patak read a letter from the SPARC program coordinator Katherine Guillette. Guillette’s letter said the Meal is a learning opportunity and a problem. She queried, “Do we hide this side of our community or do we expose it?” Guillette writes that she finds the Meal and its participants to be an opportunity to teach about choices as well as about compassion and tolerance. Referring to grant money the Mateel has accepted to upgrade its kitchen, Guillette also asked, “Is it ethical to drop the program when we have financial trouble?”
The Mateel’s resident caretaker, Eric Kay said he supports the idea of the Meal but doesn’t feel that its costs are justified. He said the floor has to be refinished more often because it has to be mopped after every meal; the bathroom plumbing is impacted by homeless people shaving and bathing costing money with plumbing bills. Kay pointed to a hole in the wall caused by a participant, not in anger, but, nonetheless there. And he said violence and aggressive action does occur on occasion. Additionally, homeless people come to the hall at night to try and find a place to sleep. His job is to move them off the property, and he has been threatened with serious bodily injury as a result.
Amy Torrones is the Director of the Family Resource Center located at Redway Elementary School. During this discussion, Torrones gave a preview of what the Southern Humboldt community can expect as the economy slows due to marijuana legalization. She said this is only her third school year in the job. Torrones said the first year, the big topic among kids was trash and picking up trash. Last year, “It was the Trumpster.” She said this year, she is learning from 7 and 9-year-olds about falling pound prices and loans on water tanks that parents cannot pay.
Torrones highlighted the magnitude of the problem with numbers. When she started, two years ago, 11 kids needed food for the weekend in the backpack program. This year it is 43. A quadrupling of hungry kids in two years has her very concerned.
Torrones also reported that 75 students are currently homeless. And she was very clear to say none of these kids are children of transients, travelers or trimmigrants, but are local families who are losing their employment in the marijuana economy as it changes. Torrones also said some of these people never expected to find themselves financially challenged. Torrones expressed outrage that the floors might be a bigger priority than this crisis.
A man, Brian, stood up to say he came to the community a year or so ago and didn’t know what he was going to do. He found the Meal because he was hungry, began volunteering there, then due to his love for the Mateel began volunteering at the Summer Arts and Reggae sites helping to develop the venues for the events. From this, he has found full-time employment and come to love the local community that he would never dream of leaving.
General Manager Crellin said he has supported the Meal. The Meal has its problems, but those are challenges not obstacles to the program in his opinion. Crellin says staff has not moved forward with grant applications for the Meal because the Board has been split on its support of the program. He gave some history of the Meal saying the Meal had been granted space two days a week for volunteers such as Paul Henniger, Bob Binarz, and Babette Bach, to cook and serve meals to the community. The Community Center took the Mateel Meal on as a formal program of the Center when the CalFresh grant became available. That grant money upgraded and improved the MCC kitchen.
Nonetheless, the Board said their fear of economic collapse was greater than any of this. The meal has been suspended until the end of the year. When the Meal is reinstated, the Board plans changes though those details yet have to be developed. However, Board Member Pleasure Strange says the certified kitchen is a resource many people are requesting to access.
Author’s note: these are highlights of a very long meeting that became somewhat chaotic at times. And in full disclosure, I need to acknowledge my support of the Mateel Meal especially as highlighted by Brian’s story.