Sunday, December 4 , 2016, 9:23 am | Fair 56º


Local News

Veterans Coordinating Council Battles Over Financials and Its Future

The group, struggling to keep open the doors to the Veterans Memorial Building, demands its chairman's resignation then votes to reinstate him

Wednesday's meeting of the Veterans Coordinating Council reached an amusing level of theatrics, which crescendoed as the council demanded its chairman's resignation only to backpedal, voting for him to resume as leader — all within a span of 20 minutes.

That vote came after an hour of cantankerous back and forth dialogue among 14 members of the council, who are facing an uncertain future and a deteriorating financial situation. 

"And that was a quiet meeting," joked Bob Handy, the council member who initially called for chairman Michael Cook's resignation.

Wednesday's meeting provided a fractured view of the council, which is made up of representatives from different veterans groups and has collectively managed the Veterans Memorial Building at 112 W. Cabrillo Blvd. 

In December, county supervisors sent a clear message to the council that they would be asking for a plan that would shift management back to the county, the owner of the building, which sits on prime real estate in the heart of Santa Barbara's waterfront.

The council is broke for all intents and purposes, members said Wednesday, and is struggling to keep the doors to the veterans building open until the county resumes control.

How to pay staff until that time, keep events running and other details of transition until the county takes over management of the building, next month at the earliest, are still open questions.

"We don't know what lies ahead," Cook said at the beginning of the meeting. "The VCC is broke; we're not self-sustaining."

As of Sunday, the group will not have enough money to staff the building, said Charles "Crash" Huff, a retired Navy commander who assumed management of the property last year.

The earliest that county supervisors could approve the new agreement for management is at the Feb. 4 meeting, said Greg Chanis, assistant director for the county's general services department, which would be managing the building.

The existing management agreement doesn't have an early termination clause, and Chanis said the county wants the building to continue operation in the meantime.

When one council member asked if Huff could stay and help manage the property, Huff responded that he and his staff were "here as long as you can pay us."

The council has undergone a tumultuous several months, as its former chairman, Steve Penner, resigned earlier this month and chairman Cook stepped in, immediately making a controversial decision to recall a $15,000 amount given to the council by the Pierre Claeyssens Foundation.

Some on the council said the amount was a donation given to cover the cost of a labor claim from a former employee, and others said it was a loan and the money had been taken back. 

Either way, Cook made the decision to recall the money without a vote, which angered many on the board.

The board took a vote Wednesday to ask for Cook's resignation, but voted him back into the position when it was discovered that someone needed to be in charge for a memorial service that would be held at the veterans building over the weekend.

"I need a boss," Huff called out to the board as they argued among themselves, and Cook was eventually reinstated.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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