DWOW is in line for more funds

Published 5:30 am Wednesday, June 6, 2007

By Staff
Council seeks added leverage with nonprofit
Contributing Editor
Washington’s City Council is poised to allocate $100,000 to Downtown Washington on the Waterfront for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, but along with that money comes expectations of changes in how the nonprofit organization operates.
City dollars for DWOW, charged with restructuring downtown Washington’s economy and leading redevelopment efforts in the central business district, have not yet been approved. That could come Monday when the council is expected to adopt the 2007-2008 budget.
A dispute over funding for DWOW surfaced last month during one public hearing on the proposed budget.
Because DWOW has only been in existence for three years, council members indicated they are willing to continue providing city dollars to DWOW to help put it on a solid foundation so it can carry out its mission.
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.
Some people contend DWOW has done little, if anything, to help improve the city’s central business district and doesn’t deserve any more city money.
At Monday’s meeting, DWOW representatives said the organization had raised $34,520.18 (gross revenues) as of April 18 during this fiscal year.
DWOW projects such as the Holiday Flotilla, Farmers Market and Saturday Market are bringing people to the city’s downtown area, which is good for merchants, Toler said. DWOW doesn’t have the money to pursue projects that would enhance downtown development, he noted.
During the hearing on the budget last month, Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, characterized DWOW as a “bust.” He said 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.
Mayor Judy Meier Jennette and City Manager James C. Smith have met separately with DWOW officials and HDWMA representatives in an effort to defuse the dispute. The merchants’ representatives were clear when it came to what they wanted, the mayor said.
DWOW President Dot Moate told the council it can expect some changes on DWOW’s executive board because it appears many current board members, including herself, have decided not to seek re-election. DWOW is willing for the council to have more input on the selection process for DWOW’s executive board, she said.
DWOW officials are willing to let the city have some oversight into the selection of members of DWOW’s board of directors, which elects officers on DWOW’s Executive Board, Moate said.
Moate concluded that DWOW will have “a whole new executive board, a whole new leadership next year.”
Jennette described the friction between DWOW and some downtown merchants as “growing pains” resulting from DWOW trying to carry out its mission.
Gahagan, a ardent supporter of the Main Street program, which DWOW tries to follow, said DWOW and downtown merchants have roles when it comes to improving downtown. Gahagan said he views DWOW as more of the “big picture, long-term” player in downtown development and merchants as more of the “day-to-day” voice when it domes to improving downtown.
Although the city could raise concerns about potential board members, the city wouldn’t be able to tell DWOW members whom to select as their officers, Moate said. DWOW’s bylaws spell out how the private, nonprofit organization selects its executive board members.
The increased oversight by the city over DWOW is something some council members believe is needed because DWOW is receiving and spending taxpayers’ money. Gibson said DWOW must be accountable for how that money is spent.
Councilman Richard Brooks asked if DWOW would be able to wean itself from city money by the time the 2008-2009 fiscal year (which would begin July 1, 2008) arrives.
Brad Davis, another DWOW representative familiar with DWOW’s finances, said he didn’t know. If DWOW isn’t able to put on the Pamlico Boat show next April, it’s unlikely it will be ready to do without city money in fiscal year 2008-2009, Davis said.
Moate said it remains unclear if the boat show will take place next year.
For more coverage of the council’s budget session, see future editions of the Daily News.