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Both sides suffer in PLJ sideshow

BY DEBORAH MARENGO

In response to Rick Wildman’s opinion article about the management of Promote La Jolla (“Time to Resolve PLJ Situation,” Aug. 5), I am compelled to correct the record and restore focus on the real issues at hand.

To mislead merchants into thinking PLJ is a disaster that can be saved by the reform slate, Wildman continues to use the editorial pages of the Light to hurl accusations and falsehoods at community leaders and former members of the PLJ Board. None of these accusations is productive; none serves to restore the financial health of the Business Improvement District (BID).

Wildman has leveled a number of unfounded accusations about PLJ’s financial management. His claims imply some sort of conspiracy in the relationship between PLJ and PLJ Foundation. The fact is the Foundation was established as a sister organization to the BID to raise funds.

The Foundation raised nearly $400,000 in private funds to promote La Jolla as a destination for regional residents and visitors.

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The Foundation’s success would have continued, in my opinion, were it not for the vitriolic campaign against a pilot, paid on-street parking program recommended by the Parking District and supported by PLJ. With PLJ under siege, fundraising became nearly impossible. The sudden downturn in the economy made matters worse. The gap between revenues and expenses was hardly insurmountable, however, and it was decided that the debt would be paid over time through the organization’s Line of Credit (LOC).

PLJ’s LOC with First Republic Bank was certainly no secret, as Wildman implies. Wildman never accepted offers from the board for transition meetings of the leadership. The LOC was a conventional financial tool established to help ensure cash flow. The interest payment on the LOC balance was a few hundred dollars each month. The debt was not crippling to the organization and could have been repaid with the increasing profits from successful events such as the La Jolla Motor Car Classic and Gallery & Wine Walk.

The LOC was renewed every year without incident. After the PLJ directors voted to have Wildman renew the loan and authorize continued payment he failed to act in time and the loan fell into default. After receiving numerous legal threats from Wildman, the bank lost patience and confidence with PLJ’s new leadership and recalled the loan.

Wildman went on in his recent article to question the actions of our former executive director. Her contributions, accomplishments and commitment are beyond reproach.

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Further, with regard to the recent financial audit conducted by the City, I firmly believe it is premature to draw conclusions about any alleged accounting errors. As the organization’s former president, I am working aggressively with the City, and members of the board to determine if administrative errors were made and to determine what steps may be needed to remedy them.

It is most important to note that PLJ had independent, annual audits of its books and a full review of the invoices by the City Comptroller’s office. If any errors were made, they were certainly unintentional and missed by many competent and earnest people who review each month’s reimbursement records.

I find it difficult to stand by while Wildman cast such wild aspersions while failing to follow the same standards that he proclaims are virtuous.

Wildman moved the offices of PLJ in March 2009 without the notice of the Board of Directors a violation of the bylaws of PLJ and at costs.

In these financial times, the operations of nonprofits become harder as private contributions dry up. Therefore PLJ was turning their focus to two special events it created as FUNDRAISERS for the community.

Wildman’s management of the organization left no room to produce the events, the La Jolla Motor Car Classic which after last years growth would be on par to make the organizations 5,000 to 10,000 dollars. Wildman gave the event away, because the board could not manage it, to the La Jolla Historical Society. Any proceeds from that event will now benefit the Historical Society - a wonderful and worthy organization - but at PLJ’s expense. Similarly, the only new event sponsored by “reform” board, the La Jolla Pet Parade and Festival donated all proceeds to the SNAP keeping only a few dollars to cover the admin cost of the event.

It is the greatest irony of all that prior to running for the board not only had Wildman never attended or participated in PLJ activities, he had never held a valid business license in the district, opting to move into the Village just prior to the election in 2008. Each January PLJ has a planning retreat to set the agenda for the year, and at the

conclusion of each year PLJ produces a report of what they have done. The 2008 report was published in the La Jolla Light for all the merchants to see. It was a full page of accomplishments that the board and staff worked tirelessly to accomplish.

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As October approaches merchants should compare, what did PLJ do in 2008 and what did they do in 2009? In 9 months the organization is reformed, with No money, no staff, and 1 event that does nothing for PLJ.

The Light in June challenged PLJ to start getting to work. Now it is August: challenge the merchants that are left in our Village to demand that Promote La Jolla starts working for you, and not against you.

Deborah Marengo is the former president of Promote La Jolla.