Former mayor Rick Northcott elected president of auditorium association
Agreement over a new operating contract continues to elude the Winthrop Auditorium Association and the Town of Winthrop, but the association’s newly elected president is confident that an accord can be reached.
At the association’s monthly membership meeting on Monday (June 4), where the long impasse between the town and nonprofit association was the major topic of discussion, Rick Northcott was elected president of the organization’s board. After the membership meeting, Northcott said he would reach out to Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau to “see if we can get it straightened out.”
The new association president has some meaningful experience in how the town operates. The most-recent Winthrop mayor before Ranzau’s election last November was Rick Northcott, who also served a dozen years on the Town Council before his retirement. Northcott succeeds Robert Stone as president of the association’s board of directors.
Perhaps a mayor-to-former mayor connection will help the two sides clear the last few hurdles that appear to remain. In an interview on Tuesday (June 5), Ranzau greeted the news of Northcott’s election with optimism. “I’m very willing to work with Rick Northcott,” the mayor said.
At Monday’s meeting, Bruce Herron — one of three auditorium association members who has represented the association in its negotiations with the town — said a major point of contention is over potential liability for any cost overruns that might occur during the barn’s operations.
In January, the association’s board of directors proposed a new five-year agreement to continue operating the popular building for the town, to replace the previous 25-year agreement that has expired. The town and auditorium association are currently operating under a temporary agreement that has been in place since May 2017.
Progress, then not
In April, Ranzau reported to the council that it appeared progress had made on an agreement. But after another meeting between representatives from the association and Town Council, Ranzau said negotiations had stalled again.
Subsequently, the barn association asserted in a letter to the council that the town was not proposing enough funding for the association to successfully operate the barn, and the town was also attempting to shift responsibility for any losses to the association.
“It is the town’s failure to recognize the material shift in risk and responsibility from the 1992 lease to the Town’s new proposal that is the reason we cannot move forward,” the association concluded in its letter.
As it stands, the association and the town each has a proposal on the table. Each proposal has been reviewed by attorneys — Scott DeTro for the town, and Sandy Mackie for the association.
At Monday’s association membership meeting, Herron said that the association’s initial proposal to the town, earlier this year, was rejected because of some technical inaccuracies which have since been corrected, and other problematic wording.
“We accepted the town’s recommendations for changes in the wording,” Herron said. “We thought we were on track for an agreement. We were confident.”
Then the association received the town’s initial proposal, which was referred to Mackie — who advised against signing the agreement for various reasons including insufficient funding for the barn’s operation, Herron said. That’s when things were stymied.
“We provided a written explanation [the letter referenced earlier] as to why we couldn’t accept the [town’s] proposal,” Herron said Monday. He pointed out that “every written document we sent to the town has had [association] board review and approval, and a formal legal review.”
Herron noted that the contract issue has not been formally discussed by the Town Council. The topic was, however, listed on the council’s agenda as a discussion item for its Wednesday (June 6) meeting. Ranzau said she hoped to touch bases with Northcott before that meeting.
Herron said the association’s biggest concern is that the organization, and possibly members of its board of directors, would bear financial responsibility for any losses the nonprofit association incurs in operating the barn. That’s a change from the previous agreement, he said. There is also some uncertainty about how staffing for the barn’s operation would be provided for, Herron said. And then there’s the issue of how much money the town is willing to provide to support the barn’s operations.
In sum, Herron said, the town’s proposal “decreases funding, increases costs and puts more responsibility on the Winthrop Auditorium Association.”
Ranzau said the town’s proposed agreement “doesn’t increase their liability but does increase their responsibility.” She said the town is willing to negotiate on the “stipend” figure that Winthrop’s proposal includes. Ranzau said the town’s figure is based on previous years’ experience.
Herron also noted that the barn is in a much more competitive marketplace than it was a few years ago because other meeting and activity venues have opened around the valley.
Association members talked about the possibility of mediation to reach an agreement at Monday’s meeting. Herron said the association’s leaders have discussed simply breaking off from the agreement, which either side can do, but decided to stick with the process.
“We just want to run the barn like we have,” Herron said. “We all want the same thing — to keep the barn working and viable.”
Ranzau has said that the town is also seeking to protect its interests in the community facility, something Northcott understands. During the membership meeting, Northcott said “I see both sides of it, and that’s the quandary.”
“We’re looking forward to actually working with someone,” Ranzau said Tuesday.