Editorial: Hollister can’t afford another rally risk

The Hollister City Council faces nearly insurmountable challenges regarding the annual biker rally, little time and diminishing hope against a swell of disappointment with any foreseeable outcome.

As this controversy mounts, council members must remember that their primary obligation and foremost responsibility is to the taxpayers, a large majority of whom will be at home with their families as emotions erupt – while many well-meaning citizens speak their case in support of a sanctioned rally – in the council chambers leading up to a decision on 2009.

While the city and private promoter are deadlocked over underwriting responsibilities, and barring major financial involvement from a third party, council members most likely face the prospect of either canceling the official Hollister Motorcycle Rally or – quite irresponsibly – taking on financial responsibility.

It would be ludicrous for Hollister to underwrite this event for several reasons.

– We saw what happened last year when Hollister council members, under the encouragement of City Manager Clint Quilter and rally promoter Seth Doulton, approved a risk-laden plan to sell “official” rally merchandise. There’s a reason demand was low in the private sector for a T-shirt contract from which Quilter originally had anticipated, and publicly touted, likely six-figure returns. It’s a shame city officials hadn’t understood such a fundamental economic principle before essentially lighting a pile of taxpayers’ money on fire.

– Cities, counties and all levels of governments have no reason to get involved in for-profit operations. Council members already made that mistake in 2008. We hope and expect they learned their lesson and they don’t repeat it.

– Risk ventures on any level are unacceptable, and this is a big one. Just look at the recent history. The promoter says he lost $100,000 this year after eating $40,000 during his first event in 2007. The city, meanwhile, lost at least $125,000 on its merchandise investment in 2008. That doesn’t exactly scream promise.

– At this point, it’s not about finding a better logistical strategy. It’s not about arguing over whether to move motorcycles back to San Benito Street where they had been for many years before the 2007 revival. It’s not about pushing for continually bantered about ideas such as enclosing the event and charging an entrance fee.

This is about financial responsibility and doing what most taxpayers undoubtedly want council members to do, above anything, in these treacherous economic times – protect their money.

Citizens for many years – aside from 2007 when Doulton, with help from that year’s merchandise vendor, fronted the security tab – have been asked to subsidize this event’s costs. Although the practice cannot continue, there is one solution to potentially lower the financial burden for a promoter willing to underwrite the rally – and that’s reducing the inflated and unnecessary cost of law enforcement.

Police Chief Jeff Miller has done his job and used the most resources allowed in ensuring that Hollister citizens are safe during rally weekend. He contends that $360,000 – and untold officers – was a necessary amount for the 2008 event. He’s taking the resources he can get, and it’s Miller’s right to believe the numbers are appropriate.

It’s also Hollister council members’ right, if they so choose, which they should, to show some leadership and override Miller’s flawed contention – and to lift the police chief’s grasp off of a blank, six-figure check.

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