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November 23, 2006

 In the News

SOHUM IN COUNSELING: A standing-room-only crowd filled the Mateel Community Center Friday evening. Some in attendance were the graying hippies who'd helped build the hall on a hillside overlooking Redway, while simultaneously building the Mateel's annual fundraiser Reggae on the River into a raging world-class event. Others were the mature children of Reggae, youngsters who grew up at the festival on the banks of the Eel. This was the nonprofit's annual meeting and many were describing it as a watershed night for the organization, one that could decide the fate of Reggae and the Mateel, or at least alter the relationship between the two of Taunya Stapp

For an outsider, the evening proved akin to sitting in on a stormy, gloves-off family counseling session for a couple whose long-simmering differences are about to erupt in a bitter divorce, one where there's mutual property to be divided and custody of a child at stake.

Right: Mateel executive director Taunya Stapp.

Most in attendance had come as fierce partisans ready to take a stand for one faction or another -- People Productions, the sole proprietorship run by Carol Bruno that runs Reggae on one side, and the Mateel board of directors and its executive director Taunya Stapp on the other. (See "Clash Over Reggae" in last week's Journal.) Silver-haired old-timer Doug Fir and relative youngster Rio Anderson served as mediators/facilitators, trying, often unsuccessfully, to maintain order and calm in the tense, contentious discussion.

Stapp kicked things off with a wonkish PowerPoint presentation on the Mateel's shaky financial situation, essentially saying, "We are out of cash" because of a lack of expected revenue from the Mateel's traditional "cash cow," Reggae. After defensively explaining her so-far-failing model for generating more income through diversification into other outdoor concerts, she turned the floor over to the Mateel board treasurer Bob Stern.

Stern dropped a minor bomb, detailing a provision of the most recent contract between the Mateel and People Productions, one that says the production company must pay for "equipment, assets and supplies which may be utilized over multiple years." Since such supplies were billed to the Mateel, the nonprofit presumably has money coming.

photo of Mateel membersCarol Bruno and company were up next, beginning their portion of the proceedings with a simple statement from bookkeeper Suzie Mattila: "There is only one set of Reggae books," apparently made in response to rumors to the contrary. Bruno was equally to the point, announcing that she had already asked for termination of her contract to run the multi-million dollar festival. P.P. lawyer Hannah Nelson then offered an alternative: For Reggae 2007 to move forward, the Mateel board must agree to license the festival name to People Productions and Tom Dimmick, owner of the ranch where the festival was held this year -- and they must do so fast. She did not state a price. As Dimmick put it later, "A line has been drawn in the sand."

Left: Mateel members clear the floor for post-meeting music -- but few stayed to boogie.

A portion of the meeting set aside for questions and clarifications left most questions unanswered and soon devolved into rhetoric. What followed was an example of democracy in it purest, messiest form.

Sixty-five members of the self-proclaimed Mateel Nation delivered heartfelt, hard-hitting speeches ranging from rants to personal attacks to insightful ruminations on what direction the community and its married treasures, Reggae and the Mateel Community Center, might take next. Bruno and the board were in turn praised and damned by allies and enemies. Festering grievances were aired, and as former Mateel board member Barb Truitt observed, people said things that night that can't be unsaid. One can only hope that the process was cathartic.

Various options were offered or shot down, too many of them to go into here. (There's an ongoing discussion on former Mateel board member Eric Kirk's blog, SoHum Parlance: If there was any consensus it was on the fact that a new course is needed, that in all likelihood a divorce between People Productions and the Mateel is pending, or at least a trial separation. Only the terms remain to be determined.

-- story and photos by Bob Doran



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