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A View From the Bridge

by Roger Larsen
The dispute over the CVB board’s  make-up arose after the CVB board reneged on an understanding that it would give 15% of its  annual tax revenues to the Link.   Link  Director Joe Higgins was furious and the CVB board subsequently voted to give the Link a little more than was in the initial budget but not the full 15%.  CVB chief James Tsimninakis (who is now leaving for another similar post) and some CVB board members pretended they didn’t’ know about the 15% deal.   Some of us, including Mr. Higgins and me, noted that the CVB board was handing out  festival money to members of the city council and the board of supervisors and the mayor, the very people who appoint the CVB board (the beneficiaries include Supervisors Jeff Smitha and Leroy Brooks, Councilmen Kabir Karriem and Gene Taylor, and Mayor Robert Smith).   A few weeks later board of supervisors president Harry Sanders (a close Higgins ally) informed his board that three of the county’s four appointments had already expired and that the fourth was set to expire at the end of December.   He also pointed out that the ordinance that established the CVB board states that the city council and the board of supervisors must approve CVB budgets and CVB hirings and firings.
Leroy Brooks subsequently informed the board of supervisors that the 1986 ordinance establishing the CVB is a city ordinance.  He repeatedly emphasized this during a board meeting—he seemed to be saying that the city was the lead agency in creating the nine-member CVB board.    City attorney Jeff Turnage then discovered that the ordinance does not follow state law—state law states that such a board shall have six members.    A city/county/CVB committee recommended seeking legislative approval to have a nine-member board, with seats designated for representatives of industries with a stake in tourism (restaurants, motels, Pilgrimage homeowners).  Committee member Gene Taylor was the lone dissenter—he wanted a six-member board with no designated seats.  He said that designating seats “disciminates” against other people who might want to serve on the board.
Two weeks ago the city council supported Mr. Taylor’s position, voting to have a six-member CVB board, with all members being at-large. The vote for the six-member, at-large board was 5-1, with Charlie Box casting the lone nay.  A motion by Bill Gavin to seek legislative authority to increase the size of the board to nine members failed for lack of a second.  I thought at the time that Mr. Box probably didn’t support the motion because Mr. Gavin had not voted against the first motion.
Last Thursday the supervisors met for the first time since the city/county/CVB board issued its recommendation.   Mr. Sanders opened the discussion by informing the board that he had made a discovery of his own:  Back on August 8, 1986, the board of supervisors entertained a motion by Leroy Brooks to adopt an ordinance establishing the CVB.  The motion was seconded by the late J. L. Williams and passed unanimously.   The ordinance is the same as the city ordinance.  (Mr. Sanders had previously looked in the old board minutes for the ordinance but had not gone back far enough to find it.  The first board was appointed in December 1986 and he assumed that the ordinance had been adopted in the weeks preceding the appointments, but in fact it had been adopted four months earlier.)  Mr. Brooks didn’t respond when Mr. Sanders said that he was the one who made the motion to adopt the ordinance.  Mr. Sanders then noted that the county’s 1986 CVB ordinance was amended in 1988 to change one of the designated seats to specify that the president-elect of the Chamber of Commerce, rather than the director of the Chamber, would be the ninth board member.  Mr. Sanders pointed out that the county had been operating under a county ordinance all the time, not a city ordinance, and that the ordinance had been amended before and therefore could be amended again.  He suggested that, in order to come into immediate compliance with state law, two at-large seats and the ninth seat (the Chamber seat) be eliminated.  He also suggested that they make some language changes to fine-tune the ordinance:  changing Chamber of Commerce to Link and changing the Historical Foundation to the Pilgrimage Homeowners Society.  He made a motion “that we amend it to six members, with two designated seats from the city and two from the county and do away with the ninth member and clean up the language and make it right.”   John Holliman gave the second.
Mr. Brooks responded, “That’s not what the city proposed, so we’re deadlocked.  It makes no sense to do that when the city is doing something else.  We’re still not gonna be able to come up with an interlocal agreement.  It doesn’t resolve the problem.  There’s no interlocal agreement if the city doesn’t change their mind.”   Mr. Brooks had apparently used  the term “interlocal agreement”  when he really meant “local & private legislation,” which would be needed to increase the board to nine members (local & private legislation usually requires majority votes of the city and county government; however, an interlocal agreement, rather than separate city and county ordinances, is a common device used to set up a board like the CVB board).   Others at the table also substituted “interlocal agreement” for “local & private legislation” during the ensuing discussion.
Mr. Sanders replied, “We don’t need it with [just] six members.”
“It’s not what the city wants,” Mr. Brooks replied—not referring to the six members but to designated seats on a six-member board.
Mr. Sanders responded, “We already have an ordinance in place.  The city [council] is proposing a new one.  I’m just asking to amend it to get us in compliance with state law.  It’s worked for 24 years.  Everybody on the committee said it’s worked fine.  We can take it back to the city and see what they decide to do.  The city didn’t take the committee’s recommendation either.”
“What happens if the city doesn’t agree?” asked Jeff Smith.
“We’re back to square one,” replied Mr. Sanders.
“Why have the committee if they don’t’ use the recommendation?” asked Frank Ferguson.   (Mr. Ferguson was the one who suggested forming the committee.   He wanted a committee that had no supervisors, no councilmen and no CVB board members.  The committee ended up with one councilman, Gene Taylor, and one CVB board member, John Bean, and another former CVB board member, John Davis.)
Mr. Sanders’s motion passed 3-2, with Mr. Brooks and Mr. Smith voting nay.
Mr. Sanders now made a motion to ask the legislature for a local & private bill authorizing the expansion of the CVB board to nine members, with the ninth member to be chosen jointly by the president of the board of supervisors and the mayor.  Mr. Holliman gave the second and the motion passed on the same 3-2 split.
Now Mr. Sanders said, “Under the ordinance we’re running under now we have an at-large member [Dewitt Hicks] whose term expires January 31 and three who expired a year ago [George Swales (at large), City Putnam (motel/hotel) and David Sanders (Link)].”   Mr. Sanders said that if the city council agreed to the county’s six-member-board proposal (which the board had passed a few minutes earlier) that “this board open up all three of our appointees, and we appoint all three on January 31.  Let’s reopen them and let everybody reapply and start all over on three-year terns, staggered, like the ordinance says.”  That motion also passed 3-2.
The dispute has been characterized as being between the city and the county, but it more accurately involves a racial split within each board.    On the county side, the three white supervisors all voted together last Thursday (Frank Ferguson, who is white, did not vote with fellow European-Americans Harry Sanders and John Holliman a month earlier but instead insisted on setting up the city/county/CVB committee).    On the city side, the votes have been basically along racial lines, though Bill Gavin (white) did not vote against the six-member, all-at-large board, though Charlie Box (white) did;  and Mr. Box did not second Mr. Gavin’s motion to seek a nine-member board).    Perhaps only coincidentally, CVB money flows to black supervisors and councilmen for local festivals but not to their white counterparts.
At last Thursday’s board of supervisors meeting Mr. Brooks made a proposal that hasn’t gotten much attention but appears to be a deal to resolve the CVB issue.   After Link Director Joe Higgins had gotten approval from the board for moves involving the 2,500-acre aerospace park (which could involve issuing 30-year bonds to buy the acreage), Mr. Brooks said, “I’ve been an advocate of putting on a mill for economic development.  We need to find constant funding for economic development—it’s not free anymore.   If we get two or three plants that want to come we gotta [have more money].  We’ve gotta look at millage.  We can’t hodge-podge this thing.   [We need millage] so everybody here knows here’s a mill that’s gonna raise X amount of dollars.  The average guy on the street doesn’t understand the dynamics of economic development… and there are some people who are always gonna be opposed to spending money.  We need to look at a millage for the status quo of the money.”
It took me several days to realize that Mr. Brooks was offering a compromise that would satisfy the Link and also the local politicians who want to protect—and increase—CVB funding for their local festivals.   Tacking on a mill for economic development would give the Link more than $500,000 this year—far more than it would have received from the CVB if the CVB had given it 15% of the restaurant tax (around $178,000 this year).  And if the CVB didn’t have to give the Link 15% of its revenue it could divide that money up between Mr. Brooks and the other festival politicians!   But of course to make sure things go according to plan it is necessary for the festival politicians to first seat a six-member, at-large CVB board.
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