CARD board and staff show a pattern of thumbing their nose at the public and the rules

20 Aug

I didn’t get to tell everything I saw at the CARD meeting Thursday evening. Everything I saw that night fit a pattern that’s been catching my eye for the last couple of years.

When Chair Bob Malowney opened the meeting, he offered the floor to public comments “not related to items on the agenda”.  Chico City Council does that at the end of the meetings, calling it, “Business from the Floor”.  You can bring up concerns you think need to be addressed, either by the board or by staff, and they can vote to take action at some time in the future or just sit there like stone monkeys staring at the speaker until he/she goes away.

Two men identifying themselves as owners of “Off The Wall Soccer” on 20th Street came forward to air a gripe that sounded so familiar it brought me forward on my chair. Essentially, CARD had made an agreement with them and broken it, acknowledged it had been broken and promised not to break it again, and then proceeded to do so. Over and over.

Off The Wall offers indoor soccer year round, for people who want to be able to play no matter what the weather, and be able to depend on consistent “field” conditions. It’s a smaller venue, so they are restricted to 7 member teams instead of the standard 11, but this created a niche for Off The Wall, one of the owners acknowledging, “we were making a lot of money.” 

A business that is making money is always a good thing to have in your town. Private businesses make money by providing a service the public wants at a price they can afford, and that’s always good for the consumer.  

Until 1995, when CARD started to offer a 7 member team program in addition to their 11 member teams.  This created a drain on business for OTW. The owners finally went to CARD, accusing them of unfair competition. CARD was offering their programs at much lower fees, undercutting OTW by half. 

I don’t think it’s right for an agency that is subsidized  by the taxpayers to play price wars with private business. CARD should provide programs that are not provided privately, instead, they see a private business making money and try to cut in on the action.

CARD agreed to cut the number of 7-member teams they offered, and this was fine with OTW, so a “settlement” was made. I don’t know if that was on paper, but it was with Steve Visconti and Monica Jameson, both of whom have left within the last couple of years. 

“Within a year and a half “ CARD was violating the agreement. In 2006 Visconti acknowledged they were violating the agreement and promised they would stop.

Again in 2013, OTW “started to see a big slide in participation… we found CARD had added programs beyond  the agreement…”  Owners of Off the Wall again complained, and Steve Visconti acknowledged CARD had violated the agreement, and that they would stop. 

But, the two men reported, “this lasted less than a year.” 

Here’s the pattern. This is exactly how Visconti and other staffers treated me when I asked to be put on the notice list for the Aquatic Facility Committee. Over a two year period, Visconti alternately promised to include me on the list, denied the existence of the committee, denied that there had been any meetings, constantly contradicting himself, as well as agendas posted on the CARD website. 

Ann Willmann isn’t any better, having kept her communications with Every Body Healthy  Body like a state secret. I knew something stunk, and finally former county supervisor Jane Dolan and husband Bob Mulhullond had to point out to CARD that they were not running their meetings properly and were playing fast and loose with the entire aquatic center conversation.

Every Body Healthy Body, despite their 301-C yadda yadda, is a private corporation that will build a privately-owned facility.  Whether or not they get public funds, this facility will be run for a profit and anybody who wants to use it will pay fees well beyond the donation they make on their property taxes. 

So here’s the irony, just in case you didn’t see it – CARD competes with successful business Off The Wall Soccer, undercutting them by 50 percent, but they’re ready to go to the county supervisors to ask that a huge parcel of land be taken off the protected register so a private development company can develop the shit out of it for their own gain. 

The owners of Off The Wall say the situation is getting pretty desperate. “If we don’t have the Fall, if CARD keeps registering (beyond the agreement), we’re out of business,” said partner Mario Sagastume.

Longtime board member Jan Sneed admitted “I was on the board when we agreed to this…” but trailed off without a suggestion. Tom Lando claimed, “we did agendize  this and asked you for further information…” but he trailed off – the owners had already handed the board a packet detailing communications over the years, it was all right there.

Bob Malowney seemed unrepentant, saying that “people want to play soccer…” . 

 I think CARD has way overstepped it’s purpose. They are a district that is supposed to offer facilities for people to play sports. I think they go too far when they try to run programs too. They compete with a number of private businesses –  from weddings to fitness to daycare – all subsidized by the taxpayers so they can undercut their competition out of business. And they do it badly, cutting programs that people come to depend on as soon as there is not enough money in the kitty to pay their pension.

CARD pays more than $400,000/year on pensions, and more than $300,000 on health benefits, all for about 30 management employees.  They are pursuing an assessment because enrollment in programs is dropping and they need money to bring their facilities up to code and up to Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, neglected since 1990. 

Recently the board voted to make management pay some of their pension – they have previously paid NOTHING toward retirement at their highest year’s salary at age 55. They’ve paid their own pensions while neglecting facilities all over town. 

CARD has already signed up 7-member teams beyond the agreement for Fall 2016, but promised to agendize OTW’s complaint for an upcoming meeting. 

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2 Responses to “CARD board and staff show a pattern of thumbing their nose at the public and the rules”

  1. david stahl August 21, 2016 at 5:07 pm #

    Juanita,

    Thanks so much for covering our presentation at the CARD board meeting last Thursday. We believe we have been unfairly forced to compete with a taxpayer subsidized organization and also have been either misled or lied to by CARD staff over the last 10 years.We also believe we are not the only small business that has experienced this with CARD. Your article was well written but not entirely accurate on all the details. I would be happy to meet with you this week and provide specific details and documents.

    As you stated, the board has put us on the agenda for next month, however, the leagues they had previously agreed NOT to offer as part of their soccer program start at the end of this month. Unfortunately, any action they take may likely be too late to help us. However, we are committed to making sure the Chico community is aware of CARD’s policy of competing with local businesses that are successful by undercutting their fees while being subsidized by our property taxes.

    regards,

    david stahl
    managing partner
    Off The Wall Soccer.
    228-4581

    • Juanita Sumner August 22, 2016 at 5:07 am #

      Thank you so much David for coming to the blog.

      I was afraid I didn’t get the details right. I was writing so fast in my notebook, what a mess!

      I know you are not the only business that has been treated this way, and it’s time to have a public discussion about CARD’s mission, what the community really needs from a rec district, and how to go about accomplishing that. As Jane Dolan pointed out, CARD is not run properly, they don’t engage the public on issues of importance. I will add, they use their positions to enrich themselves. The money they’ve been stealing from you and your partners has been going right into some pretty fat pensions – $400,000 plus a year, and that figure gets bigger every year.

      Jerry Hughes, running for CARD board in the upcoming election, is a pensioneer. Tom Lando is a pensioneer. Board member Ellis is a pensioneer. The pension deficit in California is mounting, and I believe these people are more interested in keeping that money ball rolling than in serving the community.

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