Representatives of the Hudson Opera House--executive director Gary Schiro, co-director Tambra Dillon, and long-time HOH board member Ellen Thurston--were at the meeting to voice their objection to eliminating City funding for community events. For the past nineteen years, the Hudson Opera House (now calling itself Hudson Hall) has been producing Winter Walk--an event that brings thousands of people to Hudson on the first Saturday in December and is responsible for many people discovering Hudson and is credited with helping transform Hudson's image from, as our own 2002 Comprehensive Plan acknowledged, a city perceived as "unsafe and unpleasant" to the destination it is today.
The question of City funding for events often gets conflated with the issue of events interfering with business on Warren Street. Three of the Whereases in the proposed resolution (the Whereases being statements to justify the proposed action) support that connection:
WHEREAS, these events often take place on the city's main commercial thoroughfare; and
WHEREAS, these events often take place on Saturdays in the nicer months of the year; and
WHEREAS, the timing of these events often poses problems for the Warren Street merchants due to street closures on what would otherwise be busy shopping days; . . .Speaking to what seemed to be the motivation for the proposal to end City funding, Sarah Dibben, co-owner of Moto Coffee and before that Swallow, read a statement in which she took issue with the premise that events interfere with business, asserting "parades are one of the things that make Hudson enjoyable." Friedman responded, "They can do events if they want. The City just isn't going to fund them."
One of the assumptions of the committee in contemplating this action was that successful events would happen with or without City support. This was articulated last night by committee member Rick Rector (First Ward) when he posited, "Winter Walk will go on regardless." Dillon countered, "That's not true." Schiro revealed that the budget for Winter Walk was between $60,000 and $70,000, and sponsorship is one third of that number. He cited similar events in nearby communities, among them Sinderklaas! in Rhinebeck, which he said "get robust support from community government." (For 2017, Winter Walk will receive $5,000 from the City of Hudson.) Schiro told the committee, "We've lost money every year we've produced this. The City has a responsibility to support [Winter Walk]. We have always done this because it's good for the city." Shaina Marron, who organizes the Halloween Parade, told the committee, "It's an important gesture that the City supports events. . . . I can't think of a better way to spend $20,000." (The Halloween Parade will receive $850 in 2017.)
During the course of the discussion, the issue seemed to boil down a problem of process and accountability. Friedman told Schiro, "The problem is the way we do it. . . . The way we've been doing it doesn't give the kind of bang for the buck that we're looking for." He maintained that "the purpose of the money is to support the community." He alleged that the committee had no way of knowing how the money was actually spent and complained, "This committee should not be giving money to events if they don't know how to do it."
Although the committee requests reports from recipients of the money, in the past they have not always been submitted. Friedman complained that in some cases the reports told them nothing. It was suggested that the reports would be more useful if there were better guidelines for what was expected. It was also suggested that if the committee didn't know how to make decisions they could establish a peer panel to review the applications. Friedman protested, "We do not have the power to delegate our authority." Schiro responded, "In all peer panel reviews, they are making recommendations," stressing that the committee would still be making the final decisions.
In the end, Rector effectively withdrew his support for the resolution by saying, "I've learned, I've listened. . . . If it is a major impact to Winter Walk, I support going back to giving money away." Committee member Michael O'Hara (First Ward) spoke of improving the process and procedure, and Thurston, who chaired the AET Committee from 2006 through 2011, said she had worked for government agencies at the state and federal level that made grants with taxpayer money and offered to help "figure out the process."
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