By Henry Twombly
(March 18, 2017)
After reading the SRRN 3/10/17 article “City & Chamber talk contract,” I began to wonder if the Chamber has become a part of a shadow government, and if the Council has unwittingly ceded some of its powers to the Chamber. The City gives nearly two million dollars annually to the Chamber via 55% of bed taxes and funds for destination marketing. This seems an outrageous amount for a “city” of only 10,000 plus people.
Consequently there has been a debate on whether or not to renew the City’s contract with the Chamber for destination marketing. An earlier SRRN editorial supported the Chamber with specious arguments against all the alternative options: a request for proposal for tourism services; an independent marketing firm; a city department of tourism; and a travel consultant study “to assess the current structure and funding and provide recommendations to the city.” It’s hard to believe the Council would pass up an opportunity to fund yet another study, when this would be the logical first step to figure out the efficacy of the Chamber’s destination marketing. Though the Chamber would argue an independent analysis has already been done (by a Yavapai College professor and friend of the Chamber’s CEO), I am skeptical about any statistics put out by the Chamber since the scope of those stats usually include the entire region and not just the city of Sedona. The end result is that it always appears that we are getting more bang for our buck than we really are.
Instead of reducing the amount of money given to the Chamber and taking back some of its powers, the Council wants more input in how the Chamber spends its allocation. Consequently the Chamber is worried it will lose control over the money and/or get less in the bargain. Could it be that the Council has realized it has given the Chamber too much money for marketing? The Chamber counters by saying it is spending it on “product development,” i.e. attributes and amenities that make Sedona more enticing to tourists. “And because product development has not been defined, funding can be used for a variety of sources that enhance the visitor experience – traffic and parking mitigation and trail maintenance – while benefiting the city.” Examples of the Chamber acting as an independent arm of city government are the $56,000 donated to the US Forest Service and its proposed purchase of a Jordan Rd. property for a parking lot at the cost of a million dollars over the next 4 years. This “product development” benefits the tourist industry at the expense of the residents, whose wasterwater rates could be reduced with this million bucks. Yet the City justifies its transfer of power in allowing the Chamber to set the agenda as the prudent use of the Chamber as a proxy. “‘That product development piece has given us [the city] some flexibility to do things that would otherwise have no dedicated funding source,” Assistant Karen Osburn said.”…”She went on to add,”As far as we can tell, there is an unlimited number of possible programs and projects. There is a long list so I don’t think we’re going to be in a situation where we say, ‘What are we going to do with product development money?'”
Wow, this sounds like the Council and the Chamber are now joined at the hip; that there’s been some sort of fusion, a probably illegal blurring of lines between city government and a non-profit; that the Chamber’s board members are now our unelected co-councilors. All the more reason for the Council to take back its powers and take away the Chamber’s destination marketing money and reduce its percentage of the bed tax from 55% to 30%. The Council should be making the decisions on how to spend “product development” money. In fact the Council should cut back funds to bare-bones support of the Chamber and hire an independent agency for destination marketing. Or the Council could eliminate the more non-essential jobs (around economic diversity, social media, etc.) and use those funds to do its own destination marketing. The Council was elected to represent us residents and work for the common good, not to collude in promoting the agendas of special interests.
I suggested to the council that they stop spending the $2M for destination marketing for one year and see if tourism drops. If it doesn’t drop, than destination marketing is a waste of money. If it does drop then maybe we have some evidence that there is some correlation between what the Chamber does and tourism. There was no interest shown to this idea…
Thank god, sure let’s just tell the merchants were not going to advertise to see if sales go down and hope that it doesn’t, because they still have to pay all their employees rents and normal business expense.and let’s not forget Sedona get 70% average revenue from tourism remember we are a tourist town?
Tyler this is a state program to boost tourism the money is used for tourism support it’s not going to go and pay for your sewer fees.
Tyler missed you at all the city Council meetings regarding the subject but I guess it’s easier just to comments not know anythin missed you at all the city Council meetings regarding the subject but I guess it’s easier just to comment.
Steve: Your response to Tyler leaves me a bit confused.
You state, “Tyler this is a state program to boost tourism the money is used for tourism support it’s not going to go and pay for your sewer fees.”
Please clarify what state program to which you refer.
It was clear to me that Tyler was commenting on the $2M that are provided to the Chamber that includes a large amount for destination marketing and product development. That portion could certainly be redirected to pavement maintenance, lowering of sewer bills, deficit reduction or whatever the City Council were to choose.
I was at all of the Council meetings and commented about the inappropriateness of the 401 Jordan property etc. Many times my comments appeared to fall on deaf ears. The deal was done.
Certainly good questions. Makes you think about the RRN when the head of the Chamber’s spouse is a part owner.
How is it that other chambers seem to survive on the membership dues. If you look at the Chamber’s revenue, it has flat lined on membership revenue, and skyrocketed on money given to it by the city. Why build membership when you can have the city do the collecting through their taxing power for you?
Ask yourself, why doesn’t the lodging council get together and agree to a fund of X dollars per room and hire a marketing company? Are they afraid that some hotel folks won’t put in their “fair share”? Easier to run a tax program.
The chamber buying parking lots? Giving money to the Forest Service? I am getting a VERY STRONG push back from the residents of this city on the traffic nightmare that this “destination marketing” has been creating. Does the city council work for the voters best interests? A couple of them do. The majority DO NOT. When it takes 45 minutes to go from Back O Beyond road to the Y – that’s a problem. When it takes 20 minutes to go from Airport road to 179, that’s a problem.
We have 2 roads in Sedona, we will always have 2 roads in Sedona. By pass is in the county, and those folks do not want traffic going over a non existent bridge where Red Rock crossing used to be. Over $2 million to the Chamber, of which I believe at least $800K for marketing, and the rest, the Chamber is suggesting to the CITY things to do with city tax funds? Are you kidding?
Durango had the same issue – the state of Colorado was doing marketing for them, until their roads were JAMMED. They stopped, and two years later things started returning to normal.
The residents of Sedona, and the Village did not move here for the benefit of the hotel operators. Sedona is a special place, and tourists are going to come one way or the other. I think we all get that. But this is way beyond out of control. And what is really nuts is another “study”, a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS on traffic. two roads – no options, and another study.
The CONTRACT the city is proposing to make with the CHAMBER is over the top. Spending over $2m with the chamber and we can’t pay our cops more than $40K? What is going on here? What is the responsibility of city government? A good police force, taking care of 119 miles of city streets, animal control, drainage management, sewer operations (how’s that working out), zoning codes and food health inspections? Maybe it is time they focus on the real job.
The city signs a contract, that SUPPOSEDLY is a permanent deal with the Chamber. I will remind those in charge that the city signed a contract for 89A. And what happened to that. Maybe it is time to see how mad people really are with the clogged streets and quality of life in this city. Just continue pushing down this road council.
Oh by the way, we are not the only one with a traffic mess.
http://azdailysun.com Check out the mess they have on highway 180.
Michael Schroeder says:
March 20, 2017 at 10:49 am
Certainly good questions. Makes you think about the RRN when the head of the Chamber’s spouse is a part owner.
fact Not true, fake news as is most of the letters above…. we had a city working meeting last week > where you guys? \
Last week, flight training, preparing for a lecture at NAU, setting up to record a Verde Valley human trafficking session held Tuesday, weekend helping daughter in Prescott Tuesday and taking care of spouse with a broken shoulder.
Missed you at the trafficking event.
Citizens have had it with the traffic and the alternate council. Nice gig to get government to do your fund raising. Don’t count on it to continue.
Steve: I want to clarify your allegation of “fake news”
The following is from another blog.
“1. No surprises in your very fine letter to the Sedona Eye (Henry Twombly) and a reiteration of the alternatives outlined in a previous Eye article “Business As Usual” which garnered 344 comments. However, the deed is done and the road to ruination of Sedona by controlled interests marches on. The amount in the 2017 budget for the C of C I believe exceeded the $2 million mark at a whopping $2.01 million. And let us not overlook the ill-managed visitors center paid from city taxes at the tune of $300,000 annually only to discriminate against Sedona city licensed businesses unless they are members of the C of C.
And is it just a coincidence that at least at one time the husband of a key player was listed as a partner at the bottom of the Red Rock News online version? That notation was missing the last time I checked but little wonder the print edition you mentioned ranted praises for the non-profit which we, Sedona residents, are under control. And BTW, is it another mere coincidence that same husband of the unnamed key player is a high-profile Sedona realtor? OMG- amazing but of course no conflicts of interest lurking in this questionable shadow government when it comes to real estate listing/sales commissions. Of course not.”
I (Ron) would repeat that I was at all recent Council meetings regarding both the Transportation Master Plan and the, IMO, misuse of tax revenues to purchase property by the Chamber. How did this get to escrow without City action?
ps: I note that Rick Wesselhoff is still the featured columnist of Real Estate issues published in the on line version of the RRN.
Correction, Wesselhof does not have an interest in RR News, he’s just a blogger.
The City Finance Department reports $3,010,334 was the amount of bed taxes collected in FY 2016. The amount the Chamber received for Destination Marketing and Product Development for fiscal year 2017 is $2,009,828 according to the City Manager’s Office. 55% is $1,655,683–some $354,144 less than the Chamber received
The Letter from the Chairman & President/CEO in the Chamber’s “Year-End Report to the City” writes of “an amazing 16% increase in bed tax revenues.” Yet the City Finance Department reports an increase of 13% in 2016 over the prior fiscal year.
The Chamber’s only audit was at the end of fiscal year 2015, and as informed by Henry, it was done by a friend of the Chamber’s CEO/President.
Jennifer Wesselhoff is the Chairman of the BOD of the VVREO (Verde Valley (Regional Economic Organization) and Dr. Penny Wells, the President of Yavapai College, is the Secretary. Among the 2017 Directors are Alexandra Wright, the Director of Yavapai College’s Regional Economic Development Center and Molly Spangler, Director of Economic Development for the City of Sedona.
The Chamber’s only audit was at the end of fiscal year 2015. It was done “by a Yavapai College professor and friend of the Chamber’s CEO” according to this Letter to the Editor.
By the way, the Chamber’s CEO is the current Chair of the BOD for the VVREO (Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization) and Dr. Penny Wells, President of Yavapai College, is the Secretary. Included among the 2017 Directors are Alexandra Wright, Director of Yavapai College’s Regional Economic Development Center, and Molly Spangler, Director of Economic Development for the City of Sedona.
Jean said, The Chambers only audit was at the end of fiscal year 2015″. It was done by a Yavapai College professor and” friend” of the Chambers CEO according to this Letter to the Editor.
So Jean, are you saying a College professor and friend of the Chambers CEO would not do an professional audit- and risk there professional reputation just for a friend. is that what you are saying? Or it is a positive statement that they passed the audit with flying colors?
Another the glass is 1/2 empty statement from Jean.