Nevada City Council downs motion to pay back Amgen debt
After several heated exchanges Wednesday night, the Nevada City Council denied a motion to explore city funds in order to help payback a more than $15,000 debt acquired by council member Duane Strawser in his efforts to bring the 2015 Amgen Tour of California cycling race to Nevada City.
The motion needed a four-fifths vote to pass, though was denied on a 2-2 vote, with newly nominated Mayor Jennifer Ray, and former Mayor Terri Andersen voting no; Vice Mayor Evans Phelps and council member Robert Bergman voted yes. Strawser recused himself from the vote.
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” Mayor Jennifer Ray said. “I am having a really hard time with using public funds for this purpose, not because I don’t have empathy for Duane Strawser or what he’s done, but I don’t believe it’s the right thing to use city funds for that purpose.”
The topic was added to Wednesday’s agenda by Phelps, who felt Strawser should not be the sole person to shoulder the debt, and that the city is responsible to help pay the debt because the event benefited the community as a whole, bringing tourism and exposure to the city.
“I don’t see Amgen coming back and I think that’s pretty sad,” Phelps said. “… I’m just very sorry that we are going lose Amgen. I’m disgusted and I am distraught.”
The week-long race has been held in May for the past 10 years, and runs through eight stages from Northern California to the Los Angeles-Pasadena area.
The race brings thousands of tourists and onlookers to each hosting city, along with exposure from broadcast programs viewed by more than 200 different countries.
Strawser, who is also owner of Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop, helped raise the $50,000 necessary to bring the race to the area this year, and in the previous 2010 and 2011 tours.
While the necessary funds for the 2015 tour were raised through local businesses and sponsorships, Strawser had to drop certain product categories, such as beer, due to Amgen’s priority contracts with other national brands, leaving a deficit of $15,300 that Strawser and his family have shouldered on their own.
During public comment former Mayor Sally Harris said she felt the Amgen tour brings fabulous publicity to the city, though did not approve of using city funds to pay Strawser back.
“It’s part of being a public servant,” she said. “I’m very sorry that you’re put in this position, Duane, but I think it’s illegal to reimburse a sitting council member and it’s unethical.”
City Attorney Hal Degraw said Wednesday though that Strawser was legally not obligated to pay the debt, but did so out of his own moral obligation. Degraw added that it is not illegal or unethical for the council to look into distributing funds to pay the debt.
Nevada City Chamber of Commerce member Dave Iorns told the council Wednesday that regardless of their vote, the chamber would be starting a Go Fund Me campaign starting next month to help pay for the shouldered expenses.
“Many of the cities in this tour pay thousands of dollars to be the host of this event,” Iorns said. “Do you really expect his family to give up $15,000 of their income for the benefit of Nevada City? We all need to figure out a way to help pay this debt.”
Former council member and local activist Reinette Senum added “If we lose Amgen, we’re losing more than $15,000 in advertisement year in and year out. Millions of people know who we are because of Amgen … We’re going to let this one thing ruin all future events? Are you kidding me?”
Andersen said she is sympathetic to Strawser’s situation, though does not support using taxpayer monies to reconcile an event holder’s debt.
“When we talk about finding it in the budget, if you will, we’re still drawing on public funds,” she said. “It’s not our money. We are not here to write a check for this sort of thing that was not vetted. But we are all fully obviously interested in supporting ways in figuring how to go forward with Amgen and cover this debt.”
Bergman responded, saying, “Your reasoning is flawed. He is a volunteer … The fact is, it was unforeseen circumstances and it’s just patently wrong not to pay him back. I know what it’s like to volunteer and be disappointed to see the city turn its back.”
Ray reiterated her stance to not use public funds to pay back the expenses, though recommended that moving forward the city create a committee that looks into setting aside economic development funds to help fund events, such as Amgen, in Nevada City.
Strawser previously told The Union that if new methods for funding the Amgen tour were not put in place, he would step away from helping to host the event.
In response to the council’s vote Wednesday, Strawser said, “The public knows who represents them now on the council. Who does have the pulse on the community and who doesn’t, and we’ll just have to see what happens moving forward.”
In other business, the council approved a street closure request for the Nevada City Farm to Table event, a fundraiser that provides dining from local organic farms and restaurants.
Council members also approved an ordinance to simplify the city’s business license tax.
Through the ordinance, businesses with 10 or more full-time staff would pay $150 a year, and businesses with nine or fewer full-time employees would be taxed $100 annually.
Nonprofits, home occupancy businesses and street vendors would pay an annual tax of $50.
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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