Board directors for the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. on Thursday voiced support for holding closed-door meetings, with proponents saying the open format discourages frank discussion about potentially uncomfortable topics.

The group is a quasi-governmental association set up by the city decades ago, but members say they've gotten mixed messages about whether they have to follow state public-meeting laws.

“It depends on who you talk to,” said Executive Director Dale Dawson, adding that for years the group has been following state rules just in case.

He was referring to the Brown Act, a California law that requires everything from City Council to school board meetings to be public, although there are exceptions when it comes to discussing legal matters.

Ken Grayson, president of the board of directors, said there have been times when members feel they want to discuss an issue with each other, but feel they can't because it would ruffle feathers.

Specifically, Grayson said he could see the group meeting in closed session to discuss personnel matters, which is doable under the Brown Act, as well as other issues. When asked for specifics, he said the group needs “to find out more exactly what we can do without causing a problem.”

Vice President Andre Ordubegian said sometimes the smallest items can get bogged down in public comments and it's difficult for the board to reach decisions.

The confusion stems from whether the business improvement district collects government funds, which would trigger the public meeting rules, board members said. The group's members fund it through annual fees, but those fees are collected by the city and distributed back to the association to pay for promotional events.

Despite the desire for closed sessions, the group's monthly meetings at 8 a.m. are lightly attended. On Thursday, just two business owners other than the elected officials were there.

Even after discussing the possibility of closed sessions, the board decided to increase transparency of its financial data by adding an extra layer of oversight.

For the first time in years, the board plans to hire an accountant to review the organization's books, a suggestion from the City Council last month when the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. presented its 2013 budget at City Hall.

The desire to hire an accountant comes after the group's financial resurgence. For years, the group was struggling, bogged down by perceived poor performance at its weekly farmers market. But after putting new people in charge of collecting money from the event, revenues skyrocketed.

Former City Councilman John Drayman was indicted last year for allegedly embezzling at least $304,000 from the group over seven years. Drayman maintains his innocence, and his criminal case is trudging through Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Under Drayman's watch, market revenues were so bad during the winter that the group imposed a “substantial” pay cut for the market manager, assistant manager and barricade installer. Pony rides were also canceled, Dawson said.

This year, there won't be any pay cuts, and the pony rides will continue through the winter as the market's sales volume continues to hold up during the winter.

Now that the group is back on track money-wise — board members submitted a $525,917 budget in December, passing the half-million-dollar mark for the first time — an outside accountant is expected to be brought in to verify revenues and expenses.

“The only thing we need is outside oversight,” said Dawson, who will continue writing the budget and making day-to-day payments.

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