Commission removes restrictive language from tourism contract
Published 10:19 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016
A controversial proposed contract between the county and the Chamber of Commerce regarding promoting tourism received a thorough reworking from commissioners during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Carter County Commission.
The contract presented to commissioners for consideration included language that required the Chamber to implement, or in good faith attempt to implement, any and all recommendations of the county’s newly created Tourism Task Force. The contract also put a provision in place that the Task Force could alter the terms of the county’s contract with the Chamber and the Chamber would by signing the contract agree to accept any future contract amendments or be found in breach of contract.
Before the contract could be brought up for discussion, Commissioner Cody McQueen, who originally proposed the idea of the Tourism Task Force, attempted to have the contract tabled until the group’s March meeting.
“We’ve talked in the past, and many of you have been right, that we’ve rushed through things,” McQueen said. “To my knowledge, no one approached the Chamber to get their input.”
McQueen said he “could not be a part of” a vote on either the contract presented by County Attorney Josh Hardin or the proposal drafted by Chamber attorney Sam LaPorte, which was handed out to Commissioners prior to the start of Tuesday’s meeting. McQueen then asked Hardin how many members had to be present in order to have a proper quorum for the meeting, to which Hardin replied that 12 members would have to be present since the Commission is currently a 23 member body following the resignation of Commissioner Robert Gobble.
After receiving the answer from Hardin, McQueen proposed that he and a number of his fellow Commissioners walk out of the meeting in order to drop the meeting below the required quorum as a means of stopping the contract from being considered.
No other commissioners indicated they would be willing to walk out of the meeting.
McQueen then made a motion to table the contract until the Commission’s March meeting to allow time for Hardin to reach out to Chamber officials for input on the contract. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Nancy Brown.
Commissioner took issue with the motion to table and directed his comments to Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who as chairman of the Commission, allowed the motion to be considered.
“Several times in the last few months people have made motions to table and you said you couldn’t do that any more,” Tester said.
Tester also challenged the version of the contract presented to the Commission, claiming that Humphrey and McQueen had directed Hardin to make changes from the original contract he drafted.
“I’m tired of these insinuations that are not based in fact,” Humphrey said. The Mayor then asked Hardin to tell the Commission whether or not he had contacted Hardin regarding the contract or directed him to make any changes to it.
“I got a call from your office, from your assistant, and Mr. McQueen who was there with some recommendations,” Hardin said in response to Humphrey’s query.
Humphrey again reiterated to the Commission that he did not direct that any changes be made to the contract.
“I am guilty of a lot of things, but this is one time the Mayor is totally innocent,” Humphrey said.
McQueen told his colleagues that after seeing the contract he had some suggestions for how he thought the contract could better serve the interests of the county.
“There is no boogeyman here,” McQueen said. “I just wanted strong language in there to protect the citizens of this county.”
Several of McQueen’s fellow commissioners took issues with the changes he suggested, saying they placed too many restrictions on the Chamber.
“We don’t need to tell these people how to run this thing,” Tester told McQueen. “They’ve been running the Chamber since before you were born.”
Commissioner Bobbie Gouge-Dietz said when McQueen made the motion to create the Tourism Task Force the original motion was for the Task Force to “work with” the chamber to develop new ideas.
“The language of this contract is too restricted,” she said. “This contract is too heavy-handed.”
“Mr. Hardin I appreciate your work in this, but whoever helped you with this had the goal of punishing the leaders of tourism.”
Members of the Commission decided to review both Hardin’s original draft of the contract along with LaPorte’s proposal and mesh elements of the two. As they hashed out each detail of the contract, the commissioners voted to remove the language that required the Chamber to implement all the recommendations of the Task Force and extended the contract period from one year to three years.
Commissioners also voted down a provision of the contract that would have required the Chamber to have an audit completed before any funds would be distributed. The Chamber will now have to present an annual audit to the Commission each year in October when they present their tourism proposals for the following year.
“They’ll get their funds as soon as the contract is signed,” Hardin said.
In other business, the Commission also voted to approve the Carter County School System’s request to use money already in place within their funds to proceed with a planned six classroom expansion at Central Elementary School. The Commission unanimously approved the measure pending approval by the Carter County Board of Education at its meeting on Thursday.
Commissioners also approved a change to county policy to allow an employee’s excess vacation days to roll over into an their accrued sick leave rather than being lost all together.