OCCA Territory Days organizer next to go
Dunne alleges ‘hostile environment’ with board
Citing a “hostile working environment,” Lynda Brown Dunne resigned Nov. 12 as organizer of the annual Territory Days festival in Old Colorado City.
Her business, Colorado Main Events (CME), had run the three-day, Memorial Day weekend event since 1995 under contracts with the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) commercial group and she had helped organize for four years before that.
Charles Irwin, the OCCA's first-year president, said he was “disappointed and surprised” at the news. He elaborated in an e-mail: “I feel that we should point out that Lynda Dunne's resignation was of her own accord and did not come as a result of a request from me or the board. We view this as an opportunity to take the foundation that CME/Lynda Dunne has given us with the Territory Days event and take the event to the next level with fresh ideas from a new contractor and more active oversight by the OCCA board.”
During Dunne's tenure, the festival - probably the biggest in the region - grew somewhat in attendance but exponentially in terms of OCCA's monetary share.
According to Nancy Stovall, who was OCCA president for several of those years, the group was clearing $5,000 to $7,000 when Dunne started, but by the next decade, “we were in the mid- to high-$80,000s,” said Stovall, who herself resigned the OCCA board in October and now heads a new group called the Historic District Merchants of Old Colorado City. “And that was a result of her work alone, creating things and making them sponsorable. No one else can take credit for the vision she had - she was willing to do the work to get it done.”
The year 2010 would have been the last on Dunne's current contract. However, she became displeased with the current OCCA board's desire to look over her shoulder. “We (CME) appreciate and understand a desire for 'oversight,'” she told the Westside Pioneer. “How-ever, this board was trying to 'micromanage' to the point where CME could not do its job efficiently or effectively.”
She made her comment about a “hostile working environment” in a letter addressed to “Merchants of Old Colorado City,” in which she announced her resignation. The letter ends with: “It has been a pleasure serving Old Colorado City over the past 18 years. I have made lots of friends and wish each and every one of you success and hope that 2010 brings happiness your way.”
On behalf of the OCCA, a voluntary internal audit began in October, led by Todd Delahanty, co-owner of Meadow Muffins, who has a financial degree, according to Irwin. Recently appointed OCCA board member Nelson Roseland, who also has a financial background, is involved in the audit now too, Irwin said.
An OCCA statement, initially sent to the OCCA membership, describes the purpose of the audit, according to Irwin: “We need to bring Old Colorado City Associates' expenditures into sharper focus. As such, I believe that we must take immediate measures to ensure that we capture lessons from our past expenditures to guide us in the execution of our current budget. There are nearly always lessons to be captured from the past which can help us become more efficient in our current situation. As many of our members have requested, the OCCA Board of Directors should be clearly focused on maximizing efficiencies and accountability in administering our limited funds.”
The OCCA's demands for records went back several years. Dunne said she turned over some information, but balked at the more sensitive documents, in large part because a certified auditor was not involved. Based on interviews with different parties, the delay led to hints of legal action from the OCCA if her cooperation did not improve.
Dunne submitted her resignation Nov. 12. She said she did so “with great sadness… I love this event. It has kind of been like seeing a child develop and grow.”
Dunne is the second long-time OCCA contractor to leave the fold this month. Kasten Accounting, which had kept the OCCA's books for 18 years, was replaced this month by the downtown firm of Cloutte and Associates. Facing audit demands similar to Dunne's (and also having submitted some documents while holding back some sensitive ones), Kasten owner Judy Kasten said this week she was already planning to resign before Irwin fired her about two weeks ago. She said she is irked by the fallout from the affair, including whispers that her accounting practices had somehow cost the OCCA money. On the contrary, she said she had warned the OCCA board it wasn't being prudent enough in hard times and had questioned the wisdom of retaining its marketing firm, Seiko Marketing, at $3,000 a month.
The OCCA has begun seeking a new Territory Days organizer. “We are currently interviewing three potential replacements and will hire the firm which we believe will best represent Old Colorado City and the OCCA,” Irwin said.
But bringing on a new Territory Days organizer and accountant does not mean the OCCA is giving up its scrutiny of Dunne's and Kasten's records. “Further action, legal or otherwise,” Irwin said, “will depend entirely on the results of an inventory and review of the documentation turned over by Lynda last Friday - and expected from Kasten's in the next day or two as well as an anticipated report from our audit committee.”
He said no fraud has been found to date in either person's documents, but implied there might be “irregularities.”
Asked why a certified auditor was not used for either the auditor or the organizer, Irwin responded, “Not anticipating any resistance from Kasten and CME, and with the support of a unanimous vote of the board, we felt an internal audit by qualified members would be sufficient and would save the organization thousands of dollars in fees that would have been charged by a certified audit firm.”
After an initial e-mail exchange, the Westside Pioneer has followed up on certain concerns by asking additional questions of Irwin and the OCCA board. These had not been answered at press time but hopefully will be by next issue.
One concern regards the timing of the OCCA's official 2010 Territory Days application to Colorado Springs Police Department's special events coordinator Sgt. Lonnie Spanswick. For the 2009 festival, the 22-page application had been submitted by Dunne, under her name and Irwin's. For 2010, Spanswick said the application - unchanged except that it contains Irwin's name but not Dunne's - came in Nov. 2, which was 10 days before her resignation.
Irwin's response on this date differential was as follows: “This decision was driven by a number of factors including the initial findings of our ongoing audit, resistance by CME to cooperate with the audit and the resultant questions regarding the future of the relationship with an uncooperative contractor.”
The Pioneer responded with the following e-mailed question (one of those for which an answer is being awaited): “The impression is that you were anticipating doing the event without her 10 days before her resignation. Can you respond to that point?”
Here is another as-yet-unanswered e-mail question (the “I” in the text is Pioneer editor Kenyon Jordan):
“Re your statement that you anticipated no resistance from Kasten and Dunne - both of them, as you know, had not been in total agreement with the current board. They were also being asked to take time to dig through several years of potentially sensitive materials and then hand them off to someone who may have audit experience but lacks professional credentials [Delahanty, initially]. So I'm sorry, but your “anticipate no resistance” statement comes across as a little naive. Another viewpoint an independent observer might have is that the audit was a witch hunt with the goal of forcing out long-time people in key positions who were getting in the way. Fanciful? Please tell me why not.”
Westside Pioneer article