For those of you who were unable to attend or view the May 14 Cultural Affairs Commission meeting, a portion of the following comments were shared during the Items from Commissioners segment of the meeting. Please view the website for full comments.
My comments tonight are not to slight the City Manager or Martin Cole’s efforts on behalf of the Cultural Affairs staff, the Commission or the Foundation. I am extremely appreciative of Mr. Nachbar and completely understand and respect his fiscal responsibility to the City of Culver City.
On the heals of the new City budget being presented last night, with no changes in sight for Cultural Affairs, it is time to speak out and make public what happened to Cultural Affairs on April 24, 2012. On that day, 13-full time regular employees and one full-time limited term employee were issued layoff notices as part of a reorganization plan due to the now dissolved Culver City Redevelopment Agency.
Each of the full-time regular employees was offered a choice of reassignment to another position, acceptance of a paid leave severance package or acceptance of an early retirement incentive (if eligible). The vacated 14 positions were proposed for a city savings of $2.3 million annually to the City’s General Fund. Of the 14, three made up the entire Cultural Affairs division. The only staff Cultural Affairs had. (Thankfully, each chose to accept reassignment so we at least kept the employees ‘in house’ so to speak).
Susan Obrow, Performing Arts and Special Events Coordinator, was reassigned to Parks and Recs, with her previous duties adding the management of Vet’s Auditorium and other Parks and Rec administrative responsibilities. Jeremy Green, former Administration and Special Projects Coordinator, was reassigned to the City Manager’s office. Leaving Christine Byers, Public Art and Historic Preservation Coordinator, with an odd pairing -- Transportation 4/days week, Community Development 1/day a week. Essentially the one-day allotted was for Ms. Byers to take care of her previous job description during that 8 hour day. I would elaborate on Ms. Byers complete job description, suffice it to say, it is impossible to perform her job in any way. It is also ironic that the person responsible for coordinating the Art in Public Places program was reassigned THIS year, when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Art in Public Places Program/Ordinance. In one moment, Cultural Affairs was dismantled and defunded without any discussion involving the commission, the foundation or more importantly the public. It’s one year later, and staff, the commission and the foundation have been more than patient hoping for a minor adjustment to current Cultural Affairs staff for the 2013/2014-budget year.
The problem lies with the fact that the Cultural Affairs division and Commission were established by the City Council in 2001, bearing the responsibility to oversee the Art in Public Places program and Historic Preservation. That same Council adopted the Community Cultural Plan with a 5-0 vote in March of 2003. The public voted for and trusted the 2001 City Council and future City Council’s to carry on that legacy, promise and responsibility.
The decision to dismantle and defund Cultural Affairs was done so under the auspices of it being solely a financial decision. Sort of a sequestered approach if you will to the state dissolving the Culver City Redevelopment Agency. This decision is not a financial one. It is simply about the fact that there was no public input, no discussion about the impact this would have on a department that had worked well over the last decade putting Culver City/Cultural City on the map. No discussion about the legacy that the 2001 City Council established. And, it was the only division that was cut by 70%.
Currently staff, Commission and the Foundation are nurturing Cultural Affairs to the best of their abilities. However with current staffing levels, they have had to cut out all but essential parts of their job descriptions and work programs. Staff is unable to apply for grants (without a herculean effort including involving commissioner and foundation board members). Staff cannot manage and apply for quality interns, oversee foundation fundraising and has had to cut non-relevant sub-committee meetings for the Commission and the Foundation.
Essentially we cannot continue to operate with 30% of our former staff and simultaneously burn them out and lose them. We cannot underestimate the institutional knowledge the Cultural Affairs staff has in their grasp, along with their professional relationships that benefit Culver City tremendously. Their expertise is just the tip of the iceberg if we lose them.
We are severly temporarily disabled and could become permanently so if no action is taken.
So in honor of the 25th anniversary of our Art In Public Places program, advoccate for taking the first small step to shore up a weak foundation by reinstating Ms. Byers position to full time in Community Development for the 2013/2014 budget year.
Making us 70% operational for the next few years, while we figure out a long-term solution to fund and re-imagine Cultural Affairs, post Redevelopment Agency speak up and out to your Council Members via email, phone and all social media.
Vice-Chair Cultural Affairs Commission