By Don Nelson

Negotiations between the Town of Winthrop and the Winthrop Auditorium Association over an operating agreement have stalled again, Mayor Sally Ranzau reported at last week’s Town Council meeting.

Ranzau and council members Joe O’Driscoll and Ben Nelson expressed frustration at the outcome of their most-recent meeting with Auditorium Association representatives Robert Stone, Bruce Harron and Dennis Gardner.

“We expected progress, but got stonewalled,” Ranzau said. “We’re very disappointed.”

That report was in marked contrast to one delivered to the council by Ranzau earlier this month, in which she expressed optimism about an agreement.

In January, the auditorium association’s board of directors proposed a new five-year agreement to continue operating the popular “Red Barn” for the town. The town owns the building, but the nonprofit association handles operations, booking and other day-to-day requirements.

At the most-recent discussion, Ranzau said the Auditorium Association representatives were insistent on further review by the two sides’ attorneys. The town has sent its proposal for an operating agreement for review by town attorney Scott DeTro, she said.

O’Driscoll reported that “we had intended to go line-by-line” in reviewing the proposed contract, but said ultimately he “was extremely displeased with how the meeting went.”

“I was a little bit insulted by it, and it didn’t go anywhere,” O’Driscoll said. “It was very frustrating. We couldn’t nail them down on anything. They kept coming back to lawyers.”

The town and auditorium association are currently operating under a temporary agreement that has been in place since May 2017, Ranzau said. She said the town “wants consistency with the agreement,” similar to one that the town has with the nonprofit organization that operates the Winthrop Rink. “We’re reviewing some [operating] cost figures,” as well as making sure the insurance aspects are acceptable, she said.

The auditorium association representatives cited problems related to the previous 25-year operational agreement as a reason for their caution in the discussions, O’Driscoll said.

“I understand their frustration, but we can’t keep hearing that excuse” about what happened in the past,” O’Driscoll. “We’re trying to help and move forward.”

Nelson said he didn’t think the auditorium association representatives treated the town’s proposal “as a good faith offer.”

Roxie Miller, a member of the auditorium association, said that “lots of association members are feeling left out of the loop,” and that they were told there would be no annual meeting and election of officers as in the past.

“There are many of us who feel we are not being represented well by these three people,” Miller said of the auditorium association negotiators.

“We can’t direct the association on what to do,” Ranzau said. “They need to have their membership meeting.”

“We are actually trying to give them more money [in the town’s proposal],” Ranzau said. “That just hasn’t clicked. It’s an exercise in frustration.”

Stone had earlier told the council that the barn association was frustrated with the town’s lack of a timely response to its proposal, and concerned that the town would not adequately support the association’s efforts.