The process to alleviate Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts from potentially paralyzing debt became more complicated Tuesday night when members of Madison’s City Council voted against hiring an outside consultant to analyze a new financial model for the facility.
The proposed focus model would allow the city to buy Overture for one dollar and handle maintenance costs, while an independent non-profit would assume the operational aspects of the performance space.
Some members of the council said they prefer analyzing several models rather than one.
Alders originally struck down a proposal from Ald. Lauren Cnare, District 2, to hire Philadelphia-based theater expert James Undercofler to perform an independent review of the current financial situation.
Cnare urged alders to vote for the proposal, which eventually received 14 yes votes, falling one vote short of the 15 necessary for approval.
Hiring Undercofler would have cost the city $25,000, the maximum amount allowable without starting a bid process.
The funds would have paid expenses including Undercofler’s ability to answer questions at a November City Council meeting in which the city will likely vote on the Overture Center focus model.
“The more information we have…the better we can see [the Overture proposal] off,” Cnare said.
Ald. Judy Compton, District 16, who voted against hiring Undercofler, said more of the unclear details among city officials must be resolved before spending additional city funds.
“We don’t even know what we want to find out,” Compton said. “We don’t have a definition of what we want to get answers to, and hiring someone to give us answers to me doesn’t make good fiscal sense.”
The council did decide to spend $25,000 to hire Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction as a consultant to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of having the city pay for the maintenance costs after purchasing Overture for one dollar.
Along with the controversy surrounding the proposal to hire Undercofler, Overture Center account clerk Jay Young said he believes much of Overture’s current debt situation could be related to the mishandling of state funds among management.
Young said management does not allow payroll funds which come from the 201 State Foundation, a private organization that supports Overture, to be transparent.
“In working in the last year as a clerk, all of the money that comes and goes through Overture itself has been straightforward,” Young told the council. “However, the money that comes through 201 is a closely-guarded secret.”
However, Young said he did not have evidence of a “smoking gun” to prove management mishandles the private funds, but he felt uncomfortable with the situation from his perspective handling the funds.
The $25,000 to hire Mortenson Construction will be tacked on to the city’s 2011 operating budget, which alders will also vote on this November.
As part of the budget, several positions in Madison’s City Channel would be consolidated, causing some employees to lose their jobs or move to part-time employment.
One of these employees, Programming Coordinator Jennifer Hilgendorf, emotionally told the council she would not be able to find another job in city agencies and would not be able to pay for her daughter’s daycare if her job situation changes.
“Working part-time at the city will not work for my family,” Hilgendorf said.