Riders on Colossal Cave Road cross the Pantano Wash during last November’s El Tour de Tucson. The organization that runs the event is in financial trouble but announced changes Tuesday to address the issues.

The board that oversees El Tour de Tucson has slashed the founder’s pay and replaced his sister as treasurer, part of a package of new measures aimed at reviving the financially-troubled operation.

The board also formed a finance committee to do a deep-dive on the organization’s books and has reconsidered a questionable plan for paying off a six-figure debt to Pima County taxpayers.

“I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to get this on track,” said lawyer Pat Lopez, the new board chair for Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, the Tucson nonprofit that operates El Tour bike race.

Public records show Perimeter has been operating in the red for three of the last four years with losses in the $150,000 to $200,000 range in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Now Pima County is threatening to sue unless El Tour’s operator makes good on a $180,000 overdue bill for traffic-control equipment from last November’s El Tour event.

In a meeting Monday, the board:

  • Approved a 50 percent pay cut for El Tour founder Richard DeBernardis until the county debt is repaid. DeBernardis, 74, responded by offering to forfeit his entire $9,000-a-month paycheck until then, Lopez said.

That’s a notable change from last week, when DeBernardis stepped down as CEO, saying he’d stay on for a year as an adviser at his full $108,000 annual salary.

  • Replaced DeBernardis’ sister, Beverly Blohme, as the organization’s longtime treasurer/secretary. Blohme, 81, who earned $55,000 a year, was replaced by a board member who volunteered to do the job at no cost, Lopez said.

“Beverly is a great person. I have every confidence in her,” Lopez said, but even she agreed it was a good time to leave. “We all decided the best thing is to get third parties in there.”

Neither sibling could be reached for comment Tuesday. A message left on DeBernardis’ cellphone was not returned by deadline.

  • Formed a finance committee, which includes a member, a certified public accountant, to do an in-depth review of the organization’s finances.

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“We have no reason to believe there are problems,” so the review is a precaution, Lopez said. The committee will “get in there, look at the books, take responsibility for the finances, and make sure we have accurate information.”

  • Formed a fundraising committee to address the urgent need for cash flow and long-term financial stability. Ideas are welcome, Lopez said. “If there are other citizens out there who are able to assist, we’d love the help.”
  • Scrapped DeBernardis’ plan to pay off the $180,000 debt to Pima County by diverting advance registration fees paid by riders in El Tour de Mesa, a smaller cycling event held each spring in that city.

Lopez, who last week defended the diversion plan as necessary for “short-term crisis management” said the board decided instead to step up local fundraising to cover the bill, out of concern Mesa riders might back out if that event’s finances seemed shaky.

  • Formed another board committee in charge of negotiating a contract with a professional ride production company to run the 2019 El Tour de Tucson this November.

The committee will look at a number of possible ways to reduce the cost of the event, for example by having a single starting point for all competitors instead of four different starting points. That would cut down substantially on the need for costly barricades and also reduce costs associated with transporting riders back to their starting points to retrieve their vehicles.

Lopez said he’s gratified that people are coming forward to help after a story in Sunday’s Arizona Daily Star outlined the organization’s financial challenges.

“We have board members and community members who are energized,” he said. “This event means a lot to a lot of people, and a lot of good ideas are coming to the fore.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or calaimo@tucson.com. On Twitter: @AZStarConsumer.

Reporter

Carol Ann has been with the Star since 1999, but has been an investigative reporter for more than 30 years. She's won numerous awards in the U.S. and Canada. In 2003, she was a war correspondent in Iraq and was a Knight-Wallace Fellow in Michigan in 2008.