The discussion was long and contentious, but the Scotts Bluff County Commissioners have decided the direction for tourism into the future.
Commissioner Mike Marker moved the county hire a new tourism director, who would be a county employee. That motion came at about the halfway point in a debate that stretched out for almost an hour.
In the end, the motion passed on a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Marker and Steve Stratton, both voting yes, said having a county employee as director would provide more continuity for the county’s tourism effort.
Commission Chairman Mark Masterton, who also voted yes, said having a county employee as tourism director would take the politics out of the position, eliminating any potential contention that would arise from either city of Gering or Scottsbluff taking the lead role.
Commissioners Ken Meyer and Sherry Blaha both voted no, contending the board should consider the three proposals they asked for independent contractors to submit.
“We don’t need to go back to ground zero and start over again,” Meyer said. “The fair thing to do is to reconsider the three proposals these groups have submitted.”
The process began early last summer, when the Scotts Bluff County Tourism committee, by a unanimous vote, asked the commissioners to request proposals from parties interested in taking on the tourism job.
The Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce, which had contracted with the county for the services for the past 14˝ years, submitted a proposal. So did the City of Gering and independent contractor Glen Lussetto.
The tourism committee later reached a stalemate. While the vote wasn’t unanimous, they rejected all three proposals and asked the county board to hire someone.
Rick Keller gave some background as to why he resigned as chairman of the tourism committee. “We were instructed by the county attorney not to speak with anyone about the request for proposal process, but two committee members chose to do that,” Keller said. “They then told me they had spoken to others and said they didn’t like any of the three proposals and wanted to throw them all out. Whether it was legal, I don’t know, but it sure wasn’t ethical. That’s why I stepped down.”
Marker said the impasse experienced by both the tourism committee and the county board just underscored his contention the new tourism director should be a county employee.
Because the tourism director position would be paid through the county lodging tax, totaling about $250,000 a year, no taxpayer money would be involved to support the entire office.
“It’s the county’s responsibility to manage the tourism funds,” Marker said. “I felt we would be in better control having a county employee do the work.”
Marker added the public would still be involved. An advisory committee would still be in place because the county needs partners committed to tourism.
Commissioners did say the tourism director wouldn’t be headquartered in the county administration building. They didn’t rule out the possibility of contracting with the Chamber of Commerce for office space, as well as secretarial and other assistance needed for the director to do the job.
Commissioners asked Personnel Director Jerry Crable to write a job description and salary range for the new position by the next county board meeting. Hiring a person might need to be fast-tracked, as the tourism trade show season begins in February.