It’s easy enough to say that the majority of challenges with the inaugural meeting of the new Hotel Motel Tax Board were due to inexperience. The new President has never been in this role before, and most of the members have not had this level of responsibility to establish a new direction for a City Board. That accounts for most of the challenges of this meeting, and will be corrected by reviewing Robert’s Rules of Order. They’ll get it. A thorough review of the Local and State Ordinances is also in order, as well as a review of the Tourism Director Contract, and the issues related to the conduct of the previous Board.
This new Board is a great opportunity to move forward in a positive direction. To assist the Board in building on a solid foundation, a review of just a few of the more significant issues in this meeting might be helpful:
1. The City Council passed a new Ordinance regarding the conduct of the Hotel Motel Tax Board just last month. In this new ordinance, a review policy was established for the Tourism Director. City Ordinance now requires the Tourism Director’s performance to be evaluated monthly and reported to the City Council. The responsibilities of the Board include:
“To oversee and evaluate the performance of any retained service providers by providing monthly evaluation reports to the City Council (on or about the first of each month), with recommendations for changes or other action;”
Rather than establishing a criteria to send to the City Council, or conducting a review as required by the brand new ordinance, the Board chose to recommend to the City Council that this review be delayed, and be conducted quarterly. After five years on the job, there has never been a formal evaluation conducted and recorded (we have requested copies and were told they do not exist), and the contract was renewed last month with the clear statement:
“The Hotel/Motel Tax Board will evaluate Orth’s services monthly and request that any deficiencies be corrected.”
2. A discussion of additional spending by the Tourism Director was mentioned in passing, with a statement by the Tourism Director that she had spoken with the Board President prior to moving forward. The President of the Board has no individual authority, and this should have been presented to the body of the Board. There was no challenge to this disregard for the Board’s authority, and the potential need for a review by the City Council, in this meeting. In the future, the Tourism Director will hopefully be instructed on the proper procedure to follow. (In the end, the Tourism Director did mention that she had made a mistake in her calculations of the amount in this budgeted item, and may not have needed to call the Board President, but if she does in the future, it would be advisable for the Board President to refer the item to the Board via an agenda item).
3. There was no review of current activities of the Tourism Board, or the Tourism Director to ensure they are in compliance with the new City Ordinance, and the State Law it references. In particular, promoting businesses outside the City limits, and promoting events and activities that do not promote nightly stays. Both of these issues are clearly outlined in State and now Local ordinances, and there are specific conflicts with the way the Board operated in the past. The new Board should take the task to review all current programs and processes to ensure compliance.
This new Board is an example of the City’s willingness to comply with the finding of the Attorney General’s Office, and it will take proactive efforts to correct the issues created by previous decisions. Considering the current shortfall in tax revenue reported by the Tourism Director (over $17,000 behind last year to date), timing is critical in evaluating how to refocus the funds available to the Hotel Motel Tax Board, and not just rely on contingency funds. An amended budget may be in order, with the changes in responsibilities that compliance with State and Local ordinances mandate.