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Tourism seeks new home after dispute

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Members to discuss future of group April 13

By Bryan Marshall

The direction of the Grant County Tourist and Convention Commission is up in the air after a proposed agreement with the Industrial Development Authority to handle administrative duties fell through.

The commission voted unanimously during its Feb. 16 meeting to dissolve the position of executive director effective March 1 and contract administrative services with the IDA.

The move would save the tourism commission a little more than $10,000 per year, according to commission member Randy Slayback, who made the motion to dissolve the position.

However, when the issue was brought to the table again during the commission’s March 9 meeting, reservations were brought up about aspects of the proposal.

“We thought it was pretty much already a done deal and we just had to agree on the price,” said Wade Gutman, executive director of the IDA.

The proposal stated that the tourism commission would pay the IDA $1,700 per month to assume all administrative duties.

The fee would include Tracie Kinman Rothwell serving as full-time director for the commission, monthly rent at the chamber of commerce/IDA office, use of all IDA equipment and space, operation of the commission separate from the chamber and IDA and a monthly report from the director to the commission.

Rothwell had already been performing accounting duties for the commission.

The agreement would be in effect for one year at which both parties would review the contract for renewal.

“We’re not spread so thin, Tracie and I, where we didn’t feel like we could do it and do an adequate job at the present time,” Gutman said. “As we get bigger and this big Ark project gets off the ground, the likelihood is maybe that they would need to have their own personnel down the road two or three years. We approached it as a way to benefit them, the county and to use the money they collect wisely.”

When the proposal came to a vote, three members voted for the agreement, while one, commission secretary Vanessa Rose, voted against it.

Rose said the motion that she voted for during the February meeting differed from the one at the March meeting.

“First, the agency we were initially contracting with was the chamber of commerce, and then at the March 9 meeting the IDA was the contracting agency,” she said. “Second, the position we were contracting was to be a part-time administrative position, but the motion on March 9 was to fill the full-time director’s position, which had been dissolved on Feb. 16. When the discussions were held on March 9 about the changes presented I did not feel that this was in line with the commission’s vision.”

Gutman said that a person needed to be named in a director’s position in order to deal with the state tourism commission and be eligible for matching funding.

Dennis Kenner, commission vice chair, said the reservations made about the agreement were discussed and changes to the motion were made.

The new motion changed the words “full-time director” to “part-time interim director.”

The resulting vote did not change, however.

“We were able to sit down with Wade and basically agree upon what those changes would be, still staying in the confines of what the tourism laws require from the state,” Kenner said. “Then, when we took a vote there was one member who voted against it even though the changes had been made.”

Although the proposal passed with a 3-1 vote, Gutman decided to rescind the offer.

“We couldn’t join into an agreement if there was dissension on the commission,” Gutman said. “I didn’t want to go in with animosity already whether it’s one person or five people who don’t want to do it..”

Kenner said he was disappointed an agreement did not get worked out.

“We had a capable candidate in Tracie, who was already was familiar with it because she had set up the bookkeeping,” he said. “I felt like we could have continued for about another year.”
Rose was the sole dissenting vote.

“Tracie had been doing other work for the commission and had done a great job so it was unfortunate that the language in the contract was contradictory to what was discussed at the Feb. 16 meeting,” said Rose.

If all the members had not indicated during the February meeting that everything would go smoothly setting up the IDA partnership, Slayback said it would have not been wise to dissolve Mullins’ position as tourism director.

“I’ve been on different committees, and the ones that seem to work well are the ones where everyone seems to have a common goal,” Slayback said. “The ones that don’t work are when you have someone on there who has an ego trip wanting to be in charge of everything.”

What lies ahead for the tourism commission will be discussed during its April 13 meeting.

One possibility mentioned is the commission moving to the Grant County Courthouse, a move Kenner said he does not believe would be in the commission’s best interest.

Slayback also said he would vote against moving to the courthouse.

There could also still be hope that a deal between the IDA and tourism commission can be salvaged.

“It’s not off the table, but I haven’t heard from them,” Gutman said. “I talked to two or three of them that said they were going to get it straightened out. The only way we’re going to do it is if they all are in favor of it. We were just going to do it on a short-term basis anyway.”

Ed Smain, chair of the commission, said he was in favor of the proposal. He only votes in a tie situation.

“I would hope there’s a chance that it gets worked out,” said Smain, whose term officially ended April 1, but could be renewed.

Kenner was hopeful, but not optimistic that the partnership could be patched up.

“I would like to see an agreement be made, but it would require all the board members to put aside all the personal differences,” he said. “I don’t know if that can be done. When you’re on a board like that, you have to do what’s best for the board.”

Rose said she isn’t sure what the future will bring other than the commission will continue to promote Grant County to the best of its abilities.

“With each change on the tourist board a new perspective is added and I think the current commissioners have a great vision and respect for Grant County,” she said. “Whether our office is in the IDA/chamber offices or if we work out of our homes the fact remains that the board will work hard to promote Grant County.”