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City of Eagle dissolves Arts Commission with no notice to volunteer board

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The City of Eagle abruptly dissolve its Arts Commission and replaced it with a scaled-down Arts Committee with fewer members and more infrequent meetings. 

The Eagle Arts Commission gaveled in for their monthly meeting last month with only one item on the agenda: A report from their city council liaison, City Council Member Melissa Gindlesperger. 

Over the next 45 minutes, the Arts Commission gradually pieced together in a back and forth with Gindlesperger and City Clerk Tracy Osborn that it would be their last meeting and all of their recent projects had been put on indefinite hold. This includes work on an art project to bring in local writers to create pieces inspired by areas of Eagle’s Greenbelt and an annual grant to nonprofits and other arts organizations to bring the arts to Eagle. 

During the meeting, Commissioners repeatedly asked for the reasoning behind the restructuring and why they were not told sooner of the city’s plans, but they came away with few answers. City spokesperson Dana Biberston did not respond to a request for an interview with Mayor Jason Pierce about the arts commission and the move to dissolve it either. 

Pierce: ‘We needed to make sure we got more control’

Eagle City Council voted unanimously with no comments to enact a new ordinance reorganizing the commission into the Eagle Arts Committee, which now meets “at least semi-annually” instead of at least nine months out of the year. The new committee also will only have three members, down from six. 

After the ordinance was passed, former Eagle Arts Commission Chairman Mark McAllister approached city council and gave some remarks about his frustrations with how the commission’s last meeting went and Eagle’s decision to abruptly dissolve the commission. Pierce responded to McAllister, saying the commission was dissolved so city staff could have more control over the commission’s work.

“The reason we made the changes (was) we did have a member of the commission who had gone out and on the city’s behalf had negotiated contracts without the approval of city council and that is not something we can have and we needed to make sure we got more control over what is going on in this committee,” he said. “We are now being asked to pay these bills that we have not negotiated. We always have to approve as a council to go into contracts with folks and that did not happen and when you have members of an organization in the city do that you have to take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again because we have a reputation to protect out there also.”

Gindlesperger also disputed McAllister’s assertion to the council that she and the city treated the Arts Commission poorly.

“I felt that while understandably it was coming out of left field, it was a very civil discussion,” she said. “I felt very professional on all parts and while there was some shock and misunderstanding, I didn’t feel there was any animosity from the city clerk, myself or anyone sitting on the commission.”

As of Thursday, BoiseDev could no longer find the list of Arts Commission members on the city’s website. 

What happened at the meeting?

The meeting started off like any other government commission with friendly chit-chat, a roll call and a vote to approve meeting minutes. 

Osborn then got up to address the commission, saying city staff was assigned to review the part of city code that governs boards and commissions in order to “improve consistency with duties and tasks.” She said that the city went through a similar process with the Historic Preservation Commission in 2020, the ordinance has been in the works and it wouldn’t be available for public viewing until the city council agenda was ready to go out to the public. 

After a few questions from the commissioners about what the restructuring would do and their current projects in the works, Gindlesperger stepped in to tell them their work with the city was done.

“At this time it is the narrative that the Arts Commission is on pause right now until the draft ordinance is accepted or modified in some particular way and if that does become the case then a new format is taken and then new commissioners will have the ability to apply for (the commission) and it will be operated in the format the new code states,” she said.

“If I’m understanding you, this is our last meeting?” Commissioner Ruxton said. 

“Yes it is,” Gindlesperger replied. 

“Fantastic,” Ruxton said, with a slightly sarcastic note in her voice. 

Then, another commissioner asked about the grant applications for the Eagle Arts Commission that were set to be due on October 4. Osborn, Gindlesperger and an unidentified city staffer told the commissioners the call for grant applications never went out to the public and there is currently no application deadline. Osborn said the new code included the ability to award grants and she guessed the grant would go forward, but she couldn’t say for sure. 

Gindlesperger thanked the commissioners for their work, acknowledged this change might be coming “out of left field a tiny bit” and encouraged them to reapply for the Arts Committee to continue their work. She learned of the dissolution herself “just very recently.”

“I want to thank everyone for your time and contribution to the city for what you’ve done so far,” she said. “This is where it’s gone in a sense to reimagine the commission and I sit on the Historic Preservation Commission and (reorganization has) been effective too so I hope to see everyone at an opportunity down the road express your interest in the next part of the arts commission.”

‘Obviously we ticked somebody off’

The longer the meeting went on and as the commissioners learned what had happened, the more frustrated they became. 

Commissioner Herzog kept asking for more details to share with the community about the dissolution of the Arts Commission and Gindlesperger told her to simply refer any questions to the City of Eagle. 

“I feel like I want to be a good spokesman for this transition and I feel like I don’t know enough, especially just finding out day of,” Herzog said. “Can you give us an elevator speech? Why do we say? Can you put it in a nutshell? Your rationale and why last minute for us? I know it has to have been in the works for you.”

“The overall tone is the code is coming to the council,” Gindlesperger said. 

“What code?” Herzog said. 

“Just the arts commission (code section),” Gindlesperger said. 

Commission Chairman Mark McAllister said the way the commission ending was handled was “poorly done” and could cause issues for the city’s standing with local arts organizations and for the commissioners who have been trying to build those relationships. He also mentioned the ten writers who were waiting to hear about the Greenbelt project and for their payment, which is now in limbo. 

He and other commissioners mentioned that they had been asked to submit agenda items to discuss at the September 20 meeting only a week prior, adding to their disquiet with the news of the end of their committee. 

“Time, effort and reputation,” he said. “Through contacts with any number of people with the Treasure Valley we’re working to bring the arts to Eagle and to the extent that hasn’t been completed or dealt with particularly well, it’s not just bad for the city it’s bad for us who volunteer not just time and effort, but also reputation and that’s damaging. I don’t know how else to respond to that.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner McFarlane and Herzog noted there were likely things they would “never know” that led to the Commission being dissolved the way it was. 

“We obviously ticked somebody off,” Commissioner McFarlane quipped. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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