To some Mountlake Terrace residents, John Zambrano is their only voice on the City Council. Take, for example, a vote earlier this year on whether the City should re-zone a large portion of the Melody Hill neighborhood from residential to commercial. Even though homeowners in the area were adamantly opposed to the re-zone, the Council voted 6-1 in favor of the re-zone. The one “No” vote was John Zambrano.
Now he’s at his go-it-alone tactics again, this time questioning funding for the annual Tour de Terrace festival despite what looks like approval from the rest of the City Council.
First, a little background. The City receives a Lodging Tax from the Studio 6 Hotel that goes in to a fund that must be used for events or organizations that promote tourism in Mountlake Terrace. It has been the City’s practice to only give these funds to non-profit organizations. A Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) consisting of Mayor Pro Tem Sonmore, two representatives from Studio 6 and representatives from Tour de Terrace and the Friends of the Arts was appointed by the City Council to recommend how to disburse the funds from the Lodging Tax. Their recommended disbursement of the $23,000 was 77% to Tour de Terrace, 7% to Friends of the Arts, 4% to the Farmer’s Market and 12% to the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau.
At the Council’s February 22nd meeting councilmember Zambrano brought up the fact that he had been personally investigating the financial dealings of Tour de Terrace. On their application for the Lodging Tax funds the legal name of the non-profit organization is listed as “Tour de Terrace.” Zambrano determined that Tour de Terrace was not an active non-profit organization and that representatives from the Nile Shrine Center (the organization allegedly sponsoring the festival) had told Zambrano that, as far as they knew, there was no financial relationship between the Nile and Tour de Terrace. Zambrano compared this to falsifying an employment application, saying that he strongly supported withdrawing Tour de Terrace from consideration of the Lodging Tax funds.
[box type=”normal]”My modus operandi is ‘trust and verify’ and so for a period of time I was trusting and then I started verifying. And I just want answers. The second reason that motivated me to expend the energy researching this is that I was elected by the people that voted for me to watch their back and to watch and legislate policy in a fair and equitable manner and I thought by looking at the recommendation that they [LTAC] were asking us to approve tonight, there is a tremendous imbalance here,” said John Zambrano when asked what his motivation was for the investigation.[/box]
The Council decided to table the issue on the 22nd and put it on their agenda for discussion at their March 3rd work session.
Our investigation shows that Tour de Terrace was established as a non-profit organization in 2002 and that its non-profit status expired in 2004. Since then, the festival has been “sponsored” by two different organizations. First, by the Terrace-Brier Lions Club and, most recently, by the Nile Shrine Shurtah, a group within the Nile Shriners made up of mostly retired law enforcement officers. It should be noted that Mayor Jerry Smith is active with the Nile Shrine Shurtah and is President of Tour de Terrace. Because of this Smith has recused himself from any discussion or decisions that may involve Tour de Terrace.
Around 15 citizens were in attendance at Thursday night’s City Council work session where the LTAC’s recommendation was on the agenda once again.
When discussion opened Zambrano and Mayor Pro Tem Sonmore went back and forth on the manner, Zambrano persistently coming back to the point that Tour de Terrace is not a non-profit organization.
“The majority of the grant is going to go to a misleading applicant,” said Zambrano.
“I think we are spot on on this,” said Sonmore in reference to the LTAC’s recommendation.
What the argument comes down to is this piece or paper [PDF]. Jerry Smith, acting on behalf of Tour de Terrace, filled out the application and listed “Tour de Terrace” as the legal name of the non-profit organization. While this may not technically be correct, Mayor Pro Tem Laura Sonmore said she and the LTAC committee had intuitive knowledge to understand that the Nile’s non-profit status was being used.
“I’m not convinced that Tour de Terrace is supported by the Nile. There is no proof that the Nile stands behind Tour de Terrace,” said councilmember John Zambrano.
[box type=”normal”]He continued, “I would like to go on the record stating that the applicant that has solicited the funds for LTAC is not authorized in any shape or manner to request these funds. Tour de Terrace is an event. It’s not a non-profit, then it has to be for profit. There is no proof that the Nile Shrine Center, indeed, sponsors the event. On Monday we will vote as to accept the recommendation of the Chair of LTAC. My position is that we disqualify Tour de Terrace for inappropriate application submission, at the very least, and award all the requested funds to the other applicants who filled out the application correctly. And one more thing, I am pretty confident that the City has been misled for a number of years and with that I will end my part of this.”[/box]
A representative from the Nile Shrine Shurtah, the “High Sheriff”, spoke and explained that they were, in fact, sponsoring the Tour de Terrace festival with permission from the Nile. He further went on to explain that the Shurtah unit also sponsors MMA and amateur boxing events and that “Shurtah” is generally not used in the name of the events they sponsor. When asked by Zambrano if the Nile financially supports Tour de Terrace, the representative said that no, they don’t give money to Tour de Terrace but they volunteer by staffing the event.
“I’m a little confused as why there’s so much confusion on the issue,” said Councilmember Rick Ryan.
While Councilmember Doug McCardle didn’t have any objections to LTAC’s recommendation, he did say he would like to see a more equitable distribution of the funds in the future as all the applicants have an economic benefit to the City.
The City Council will vote on whether or not to accept the LTAC’s recommendation at their March 7 meeting. The meeting begins at 7pm at the Mountlake Terrace Interim City Hall.
UPDATE: The City Council approved funding for Tour de Terrace last night but not before a contentious discussion. Read more about it here