Dispute over DWOW funding surfaces

Published 1:53 am Wednesday, May 16, 2007

By Staff
Proposed budget allocates $100,000 to nonprofit
Contributing Editor
A dispute over city funding for Downtown Washington on the Waterfront erupted during the Washington City Council’s meeting Monday night.
The council decided to ask DWOW and the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association to sit down and try to work out their differences. The council also made it clear that any group that has problems with DWOW’s mission should consider participating in such discussions.
The proposed budget recommends DWOW receive $100,000 from the city.
Several years ago, the city agreed to provide $55,000 a year for three years to DWOW. The current fiscal year is the final year of that agreement. Although city officials had been talking about weaning DWOW off city funds by this fiscal year, the proposed budget doesn’t reflect that.
Dawn Benthall, owner of The Pink Petal in downtown Washington, told the council DWOW does not deserve funding from the city, much less an increase in city funds.
She contends DWOW has done little, if anything, to help improve the city’s central business district. DWOW, a nonprofit organization, is charged with renewing downtown Washington’s economy and developing a revitalization strategy to accomplish that goal. If DWOW should receive more city money, she asked that DWOW’s financial records be audited.
With the money it’s received from the city and county (a little more than $300,000) in the past three years, DWOW has done nothing to make downtown better, he said.
He said part of the problem is there are “self-serving individuals serving in DWOW” and that “profiteers took over” the nonprofit organization. Those people don’t care about downtown but do care about putting money in their pockets, Tomasulo said.
Tomasulo also questioned how much money DWOW has raised to help it carry out its mission.
Dot Moate, DWOW president, disputed Tomasulo’s remarks.
Everything that DWOW has done since it was formed has been above board, she said. The friction between DWOW and other groups comes down to personal issues, which some people are unable to separate from legitimate disagreements over how to improve downtown, Moate said.
As for the attacks on DWOW, 90 percent of them are based on fabrications, innuendoes and rumors, Moate said.
DWOW raised $40,000 last year, she said. DWOW’s books were audited last year, too, she said.
Scott Sheppard, a DWOW founding member, said he is disappointed with the “slanderous allegations” and believes there are personal vendettas behind the dispute. He also said DWOW should wean itself from city funding.
Sheppard said DWOW has been in existence for three years and continues to build a foundation upon which to grow. He said that New Bern’s downtown revitalization group, Swiss Bear, has been around for 25 years. It took several years before Swiss Bear became a significant player in helping improve downtown New Bern, he noted.
Councilman Archie Jennings said he’s disappointed with the “rift” and “tremendous animosity” between the two groups. He suggested that representatives from each group sit down and work out their differences, adding that the conflict is not good for downtown.
For additional coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions of the Daily News.