Dozens of people crowded into the lab at Ciné to press Athens-Clarke County officials Monday night on the future of the Lyndon House Arts Center at a Federation of Neighborhoods forum. They left with few more answers than they came with.
Leisure Services Director Pam Reidy said she and her staff are trying to answer four questions regarding the Lyndon House and the entire department: What programs and services are we offering? What programs and services should we be offering? What personnel is needed to provide those programs and services? What financial resources are needed to provide those programs and services?
"We will be moving forward in answering those four questions," she said.
Later: "The fact of the matter is, I don't have those answers for you because we haven't answered those four questions for the Lyndon House."
Another questioner tried to pin her down again on future plans for the Lyndon House. "I know it must be frustrating to hear four questions, four questions, four questions, but I think that's what makes the department good," she said.
Reidy said the timetable for looking at Lyndon House programming will be several months. Will artists be involved in decision-making? "When we get to the point where we answer those four questions, their opinions will be asked" at public forums, on social media and through mail and telephone surveys, she said.
County Manager Alan Reddish did specifically deny that officials are considering moving any government employees other than the Leisure Services facilities supervisor into the Lyndon House.
"Some rumor that we're bringing in someone from public works or wherever is absolutely unfounded," he said.
Another question—like most others, it was asked through moderator Al Ike—was whether artists would continue to be able too use the Lyndon House for free. Reidy and Reddish didn't give a straight answer, although they noted that Leisure Services is trying to recoup more of the cost of programming for adults in response to recession-driven budget cuts.
The department currently earns $900,000 in revenue and has a $7.1 million budget. The goal is to bump up revenue to 20 percent of the budget; the national average is 34 percent, Reidy said.
In handling the budget cuts, Leisure Services has focused on preserving programs for children, Reddish said. $240,000 in fees went uncollected last year because of the scholarship program for low-income families, he said.
"I point that out because many times that's a clientele that doesn't have a very loud voice in this community, but it is a clientele that needs to be served," he said.
ACC doesn't have the money to expand popular programs like summer arts camps, Reddish said, noting that people want their favorite programs but don't want to pay more taxes.
Reddish and Reidy ended the forum by chiding attendees for focusing on the negative and believing rumors they hear rather than seeking answers directly from the source.
"Build a relationship with me," Reidy said. "Pick up the phone. Call me. Email me. Take me out for coffee. Take me out for lunch."
Dan Hope—a longtime parks and recreation official who is critical of the department—said he's been asking questions for years and gotten no answers. The local government's attitude is: "Pretend you're listening to citizens but ignore them, because they'll get tired and stop bothering us," he said.