In an effort to offset its legal expenses, the Downtown Roseburg Association will pay the City of Roseburg $10,000 less in contract fees this year.
The association pays the city an annual fee to lease and operate downtown parking infrastructure in exchange for keeping all parking-related revenue collected by ParkSmart. Last year, that fee was $47,500.
On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved a new three-year contract and a fee reduction for the first year — the association will pay $37,500 in 2019-20.
Association Executive Director Susie Johnston-Forte says the fee reduction is necessary to financially stabilize the downtown advocacy organization. She attributes the financial problems to unanticipated legal expenses brought on by former director Alyssa McConnel.
In 2018, McConnel filed a complaint to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claiming the association fired her in retaliation for protected whistleblowing activities. McConnel alleged the city received kickbacks from the association in exchange for the parking contract. The bureau dismissed the complaint earlier this year for lack of evidence.
When McConnel filed the complaint, the association contacted its insurance company, who hired an attorney, Johnston-Forte wrote in a May 20 letter to Roseburg Community Development Director Stuart Cowie. The association’s deductible was $10,000 — the amount of its fee reduction to the city.
In April, McConnel filed a lawsuit against the association, making the same complaint.
The lawsuit has been “resolved,” Johnston-Forte said Thursday. She declined to elaborate further on the resolution, because “both parties signed a confidentiality agreement,” she said.
McConnel also declined to comment.
The association’s board of directors recently approved a settlement of “less than $50,000,” Johnston-Forte said in her May 20 letter.
“We felt that the distraction of dealing with this lawsuit, if going forward to litigation, would negatively effect, in a seriously detrimental way, the work we are here to do,” she said. “We feel very confident that this matter will be settled soon.”
Johnston-Forte said additional financial assistance from the city won’t be necessary.
Although the City Council approved the new contract and fee reduction unanimously Monday, multiple councilors suggested inconsistent parking regulation enforcement influenced the association’s financial problems.
“There are those who really work hard to park where they’re really not allowed,” Johnston-Forte said, referring to downtown business owners who illegally park in the free parking spaces intended for customers.
City Councilor Brian Prawitz said he thinks the association would be able to cover legal expenses if people who violate the free parking were ticketed consistently.
“The other day it was awesome,” said Prawitz, who owns a downtown business. “Tried to go to lunch at Alexanders (Greek Cuisine), couldn’t find a place anywhere on any street. I was going to park for half an hour, have some lunch, I think that’s legal. But it was packed, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘how many of those spots were occupied by people that work downtown.’
“I want to see the free parking ordinance enforced equally ... I think if it’s consistent, you’ll cover this easily,” Prawitz said.
Johnston-Forte agreed parking enforcement could be enforced better, and she said the association is working to improve it with ParkSmart. But she disagreed that if parking regulations were consistently enforced, the revenue would have covered the association’s legal expenses.
“I think that’s not correct,” Johnston-Forte said. “The fee reduction is really in response to money that we didn’t anticipate having to expend.”
She said the association has moved on from the recent legal problems and is looking to grow its services through several revenue sources.