Commentary: Volunteers, not money, the greatest need for Old Town Assn.

... this downward slide is consistent with the roller coaster ride that has been the Old Town Association since its inception in 1993. The OTA – especially under the leadership of people such as Lindsey Higginson, Cindi Battisti and Lisa Pender – has had banner years. In between those times, the organization has been stagnant and, at others, totally dysfunctional.

The similarities between the plight of Cottonwood’s Old Town Association in many ways mirrors the problems experienced in recent years by Camp Verde Promotions.

In the case of the Old Town Association, the problem on the surface seems to be one of money. The OTA was the victim of a six-figure embezzlement earlier this year. And in the midst of what is a belt-tightening year for the City of Cottonwood, there is sentiment among some that the City Council should pull the plug on the $10,000 annual contribution the city makes to OTA.

The OTA contribution will be discussed, and likely decided, at the council’s July 17 meeting.

Across the Valley, Camp Verde Promotions also receives financial help annually from the Town Council to aid the group’s efforts in putting on such events as the Spring Heritage Festival, Cornfest and Fort Verde Days. In past years, the council has budgeted up to $10,000 annually for specific special event direct costs to aid Camp Verde Promotions. This coming year, that figure will be increased to $12,000.

For the OTA, the biggest obstacle to receiving the city stipend this year is making a case that a continued contribution is not a case of throwing good money after bad. The past few years have not been banner ones for the OTA. There was a serious lack of fiscal checks and balances in the organization. The OTA’s president had to step down after being arrested for an alleged felony. And, the OTA provided a total vacuum of leadership when needed most during the Thunder Valley Rally debacle a few years ago.

But it bears emphasis that this downward slide is consistent with the roller coaster ride that has been the Old Town Association since its inception in 1993. The OTA – especially under the leadership of people such as Lindsey Higginson, Cindi Battisti and Lisa Pender – has had banner years. In between those times, the organization has been stagnant and, at others, totally dysfunctional.

That has nothing to do with the OTA receiving a $10,000 annual stipend from the City of Cottonwood.

Rather, the OTA is a volunteer organization. Its good years have been the result of a solid, strong group of volunteers and good leadership. The same can be said of the downward slide of the OTA roller coaster over the years. The problem with good volunteers is that they get dumped on. Burnout eventually sets in. Dysfunction occurs. Good volunteers vanish, and then you are left with a void, or volunteers who are not nearly so dedicated as the group that preceded them.

We’ve seen the exact same thing with Camp Verde Promotions during the past year. CV Promotions is the same basic group of volunteers doing event after event, year after year, and this year they said enough is enough and the popular annual Camp Verde Cornfest went kaput. It’s interesting to note that during the past year when Camp Verde Promotions has made presentations to the Town Council, the $10,000 in assistance the group receives from the town is not the sticking point. In Camp Verde, the problem is a shallow pool of volunteers to perform the mountain of work required for the town’s trio of annual community events.

Like Camp Verde Promotions, Cottonwood’s Old Town Association does not want to go forward without the city’s financial help. But for both organizations, $10,000 is not going to make or break the organization. What both groups need is a deeper pool of volunteers to share the workload for community events and the promotion of those events.

For the OTA, the answer should be the Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce, which already serves as the most important statewide marketing arm that Old Town Cottonwood has. It’s already been suggested, quite strongly by some, that the chamber and OTA form a partnership beyond the comp memberships the two organizations provide each other.

Given the financial oversight problems experienced by OTA in recent years, the chamber obviously could help the Old Town Association by serving as its fiscal agent. That could guarantee OTA a system of fiscal checks and balances lacking in the organization. The OTA need not feel threatened by such a partnership. The chamber is not looking to take over the OTA. It’s likely the chamber already has a greater percentage of Old Town merchant members than the OTA can claim.

The major benefit to having the OTA partner with the chamber goes far beyond any fiscal consideration. The chamber has a huge membership base, and, therefore, one of the deepest pools of quality volunteers of any organization in the Verde Valley. Just look at what the chamber has done consistently over the years with the annual undertakings of Verde River Day and the Verde Valley Job Fair.

The chamber could be a huge help to the OTA by providing and sharing from its deep pool of volunteers for such events as the annual Chocolate Walk, Old Town’s Halloween activities, Second Saturday Art Walk and the recently added Sip and Stroll event.

The chamber could be a big help in sharing its regional perspective of special events coordination. Often it’s not the quality of an event that determines its success, but the timing of it. The chamber could be a big help to the OTA in making sure its special events planning does not bump heads with other events elsewhere in the Verde Valley or Sedona.

As for the city contribution to the OTA, it does bear emphasis that we have a new executive board for the Old Town Association. They are energetic and committed. They are the kind of people who give confidence to the belief that the OTA is about to embark on another good ride, just as we have seen the organization do many times before in the past.

Because this is a belt-tightening year for the city, combined with the fact that there is an understandable lack of trust in the OTA’s fiscal checks and balances, the City Council may want to do as Camp Verde does and agree to a $10,000 ceiling for OTA events, but only pay direct costs for the special events and promotions organized by OTA. That would be fair and reasonable.

Again, though, money is a secondary consideration for the problems of the Old Town Association. It’s great that the OTA has a new, energetic, committed executive board in place. Let’s hope those board members can find a way to deepen the OTA’s pool of volunteers before they, too, like their many predecessors, are beat up by the job.

Remember, when you are a volunteer, no good deed goes unpunished.


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tbabbitt 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Old town has a lot less individual business owners than it used to. When one guy owns like four places you are basically volunteering for him.


StevenBostwick 7 months, 1 week ago

Why is this question not been asked? The OTA was getting $10,000 a year from the city. They had enough money sitting around for somebody to steal over $100,000. You have to ask, was that city money being hoarded? Then they obviously don't need the city's money. Was it proceeds from events? Then they obviously don't need the city's money. Either scenario leads to the fact that they don't need $10,000 from the city every year, especially when the city gives the Chamber over $200,000 a year to promote Cottonwood. And I'm sure that promotion is Old Town heavy. These questions need to be seriously considered.