By [Concerned Sedona Resident]
(August 15, 2018)
Several months ago, we published our 11th article in the “Selling Sedona” series. Each of our past articles outlined issues regarding the selling of Sedona to the outside world. Each article focused primarily on the actions of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, the City of Sedona government and Sedona City Council, since all are complicit in the over-selling of Sedona as a tourist destination.
We thought one article for the year was enough to cover current ”selling” issues. It was not! Given the frenzy of our current city election and the tactics being used, we are compelled to enter the fray.
This “Selling Sedona” article, however, is different. It’s focus is not on outside tourism promotion but, instead, on the efforts of Sedona city government, the City Council and Sedona Chamber of Commerce to sell Sedona voters inside the city on maintaining home rule status quo, continuing tax-funded tourist promotion and reelecting City Council incumbents.
Without question, the loudest campaign noise is being made about home rule. No group is making more noise on this issue than the Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff doesn’t miss a day without an article in the local newspaper, an email outreach to Chamber members or a blast to the Chamber’s email news list.
One might ask “Why is the Chamber so over-the-top involved in this internal city issue?” The answer is simple: follow the money. In our 11th article we summarized the city’s payments to the Chamber over the past 5 years. That table is reprinted below.
City payments to the Chamber:
2014 – $534,000
2015 – $1,258,000
2016 – $1,641,609
2017 – $1,959,734
2018 – $2,502,208
Total – $7,896,708
In addition to almost $8 million paid in the past, the Chamber has over $2 million reasons in the current city budget to attempt to sell Sedona voters on marking “yes” on home rule. Without that approval vote, all that public tax money now going to the Chamber will vanish. Vanishing with it will be much more than just the destination advertising the Chamber spends some of it on. (Chamber leaders and even our local newspaper editor have admitted that the tourists will come whether the city pays the Chamber to advertise or not.) So why does the Chamber care so much about the city tax money?
Much more important to Chamber staff and board members than advertising is the long list of nice perks that would also vanish, perks like lavish travel to “tourism” conferences in extravagant settings, free fitness club and discount store memberships, sweetheart contracts, salary increases, nicely remodeled offices, upgraded equipment and surroundings, reconstruction of Chamber landscaping and Chamber land purchases with public money.
Next time you read a Chamber-produced article in our local paper, receive their email or hear a pitch from a Chamber staff member supporting home rule, you should not wonder why. It’s not really about supporting city government at all. It’s personal. Just follow the money.
Speaking of the local newspaper, it’s hard to miss the not-so-subtle effort of the “Red Rock News” to support Chamber’s efforts in selling Sedona voters on supporting home rule. Every edition of the paper now contains at least one and often two Chamber-produced articles or a Chamber-slanted news story or photo. Given that the paper’s general manager is a member of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, preferential treatment of the Chamber and Chamber interests is no surprise. Since financial support of the “News” also benefits significantly from advertising bought by Chamber members, it’s again no surprise that providing the Chamber with what amounts to free ad space for their political campaign has become a given.
It is also no surprise that the content of the “News” articles, emails and presentations regularly stretch truth beyond the breaking point. They take the overused term “fake news” to a whole new level regarding the Chamber’s role in the city, tourist contributions to our tax revenues and Sedona’s relative position in funding tourism marketing. All this in an effort to sell Sedona residents on voting the way they would like.
One of the most often-repeated Chamber claims is that tourists fund 70% of the city’s general fund budget. (It’s good they have finally noted the difference between the city general fund and the city’s total budget – which they used to claim got a 70% tourist boost.)
This Chamber claim get’s zero stars for accuracy. The city’s current fiscal year budget shows tourists will generate only 52% of the city’s general fund revenues. (Sedona’s general fund makes up 46% of the city’s total budget.) Doing the math puts tourist contributions at just over 35% of what is spent running our city government and all it’s programs and services. (But we can promise you will see more of the Chamber’s 70% exaggeration before this campaign mercifully ends.)
Close behind the inflated tourist revenue claim in their “selling” effort is the assertion that the Chamber “does not receive any city money.” Of course that claim is false on it’s face – they admit to receiving well over $2 million per year. But what they are really trying to sell to voters is the notion that no city tax money is used to fund Chamber operations or pay employees. That claim gets maybe one half of a star out of five (technically) for truthfulness.
In a technical accounting sense the claim is slightly true – but only technically so. It works this way: Take the Uptown Chamber’s visitors center for example. Same center, same hours of operation, same focus on only Chamber members and same staffing approach as a decade or more ago. Add city tax money to the equation and suddenly you again see the same center, hours, focus and staffing as before – but now public tax money is paying for most of the salaries, maintenance costs, utilities, volunteer costs, printing of materials, meetings, travel costs, etc.
The technicality comes from claiming that all these cost are really part of tourism promotion and thus qualify for city tax funding and are no longer (technically) part of “Chamber operations.” The same is true back at the office where the Chamber Tourism Department plays the identical game of substituting public dollars for Chamber member dues to pay for salaries, utilities, perks, etc. And, it’s also true for Chamber administration under the notion that since they supervise and oversee all Chamber operations and since some of these operations are “tourism promotion,” some of the administration costs can also be charged to city tax funds.
It’s the oldest accounting game in the books; one designed to hide, obfuscate and disguise reality.
Data from the Chamber’s own budget shows 77% of salaries and benefits for the visitor center and 44 % of the Tourism Department are paid by city tax money. Total cost to city coffers: $.46 million. Add tax-funded costs for other items like the meetings/trade shows/sales missions budget at $180,000, building and grounds maintenance budget of $24,000, computer technology costs of over $18,000, phone and utilities at $26,000, volunteer recognition at $30,000, etc. etc. and before you know it, you’re talking about real money!
Very recently, Wesselhoff’s election sales strategy has added (unsubstantiated) assertions that other Arizona cities like Tucson, Scottsdale and Mesa spend much more on tourist advertising than Sedona. She lists Scottsdale as spending about $12 million of bed tax money on tourist promotion, Tucson spending about $9 million and Mesa spending estimated at $3.1 million. Her inference is that this city’s Chamber payments are a paltry sum by comparison. She further claims that the national average for city tourist promotion spending is $3.39 million, well above Sedona’s level.
Of course she avoids mentioning that Tucson and Mesa are literally 50 times the size of Sedona or that Scottsdale is 25 times the size of Sedona. She also ignores the fact that the claimed $3.39 million national average disregards city size and lumps small Sedona with places like New York, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles in computing that average.
So, when we did factor in city size with amounts paid for “destination marketing” and compare the numbers on a per capita basis, we find a very different picture. Sedona pays $250 of public tax money to the Chamber for every man, woman and child resident of our city. By comparison we see Scottsdale paying $48 per capita, Tucson at $22 per capita and Mesa last on the list at $6.20 per capita of tax money paid for tourist advertising.
Size matters! Sedona pays the highest amount of public tax dollars per capita for tourist promotion of any city in the state! Zero stars for the Chamber’s contention that our city is somehow below par in tourist advertising based on our size.
Finally, a very recent “Red Rock News” article posed that the Chamber’s agreement to suspend advertising in Phoenix this summer has hurt local businesses. The article’s “research” process consisted of interviewing some selected local business owners about their perceptions of summer sales levels. It was about their perception only and did not ask them to check actual sales records before speaking.
The article’s purpose was clearly another thinly-disguised “Red Rock News” attempt to sell Sedona voters on believing the city’s decision to halt Phoenix advertising this summer was a poor choice. It’s effort from the start was to find a negative result and its research process was designed to make sure that happened.
Several other pieces of available information actually contradict this “News” attempt to editorialize as a news story (Front page no less!). First, the same week, another local business owner, writing in the same publication, stated that she had never had a better August and that there was obviously no “slow” season in Sedona any more.
Next, while Chamber CEO Wesselhoff was telling the “News” reporter about perceived impacts of suspending advertising in Phoenix, Chamber spokesperson Steve Segner had just responded to a story in this Sedona.biz publication, claiming “the chamber has an (sic) advertised in the Phoenix market in two years.” One or the other of these Chamber representatives is clearly working on “alternative facts.”
Unfortunately, none of those writing, speaking or being interviewed bothered to check the one information source that provides as close as there is to quantifiable, objective data about real local business activity levels: specifically, city sales and bed tax collections. These collections data always lag several months behind due to the delay in businesses reporting their sales and the state passing that information on to Sedona. However, a check of city financial records shows collections thorough May to be well above last year (and years before) and trending steadily upwards. Given this trajectory in city tax data and the pattern of past years, any report of a broad drop-off in business levels this summer is highly suspect.
This election campaign has seen more attacks, vandalism, false information, fake news and general nastiness than any in past memory. Attempts to sell Sedona voters a particular point of view have gone to new heights of effort and new lows of conduct. The entrenchment of warring factions and the intentional use of misinformation, centered mostly around home rule, does not bode well for the future of local community-building. Neither does it bode well for frustration levels of those ultimately elected to govern and carry out the voter’s wishes, whatever they turn out to be.
The badly-divided Sedona of today and the political acts now playing out here look more like those of the state and national levels that so many voters despise. It seems to be the natural tendency of people to move ever upwards toward bigger things. Arrival in the big leagues of political behavior, however, should not be a goal in our small town.
It does make you long for the good old days of playground ball, doesn’t it?
Great article. Thank you !
We need who ever is writing this series on Sedona City council. My guess is they have already been there, done that.
We have a choice, voters can learn the facts as stated above or they can continue the status quo. How you vote on Home Rule and who is on the city council determines the future of Sedona.
There are a lot of very smart, very generous people in Sedona. Many smarter than me. I just ran for mayor because somebody had to do it. I’m somebody, you’re somebody too. Get involved, please. We can take our home back from special interests. Verify any facts you question.
If you are not mad, you are not paying attention !
Vote wisely !
Great article. Extremely informative and articulated very well. I agree that this person needs to be on the City Council.
Our biggest problem is that for the most part our City Council isn’t capable to run this city efficiently and lets the staff run it. Our second biggest problem is that we have a fairly large segment of citizens that are very misinformed or uninformed and the Red Rock News is a major contributor to that. Unfortunately, as usual it’s follow the money which I believe has a lot of tentacles in this city.
Mike S, said Las Vegas spends $300 million on destination marketing? Where did that fantasy number come form? Our City Chamber? The TOTAL expenditures for 2017 were $765,975,013. Only took a couple of seconds to get that.
Mike the number is in millions not thousands…
Well Mike The LCVB- own Las Vegas Convention Center almost a $800,000,000 budget and you know it is almost a Billion $ and why would they advertise everyone knows about Las Vegas they can just google it !
By Richard N. Velotta / Las Vegas Review-Journal
May 8, 2018 – 12:53 pm
And Sedona spends $500,00.00+ for off season business look at LV.
Attracting more international visitors to Las Vegas is always high on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s to-do list.
On Tuesday, the LVCVA’s board of directors took two big strides in that direction.
Board members unanimously approved the second portion of a $900 million bond sale in support of the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion project that is nearing a late 2018 startup.
The vote authorized the sale of $500 million in revenue bonds that are expected to be sold by the end of this year or early 2019.
The board also approved spending $2.39 million in each of the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years for 12 offices that represent Las Vegas in 19 countries and regions on three continents.
Expanding the convention center is part of the LVCVA’s strategy to stay competitive in the global meetings and trade-show industry.
$400 million in bonds
The board already authorized $400 million in bond sales in February and Clark County has issued $200 million of them with an average interest rate of 3.9 percent, according to LVCVA Chief Financial Officer Ed Finger.
The LVCVA is on track to determine a guaranteed maximum price for the project by fall.
The Las Vegas Convention Center District plan allows for $860 million plus a 5 percent contingency — a total of $903 million — to be spent for the Phase 2 expansion portion of the project. A renovation project for four existing exhibition halls will begin in 2021 after the completion of the new 600,000-square-foot hall planned at the northwest corner of Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive.
Steve: Personally I couldn’t care less what is spent in Las Vegas or any other city anywhere. This is our town Sedona we are concerned about and comparisons mean nothing to me. Everyone brags how unique Sedona is, well that is only because some early settlers came here and Oak Creek and other sources provided water for crops and lots of cattle and of course the beauty and mild winters. We should govern only on what is generated here and not care about anywhere else. You do comparisons like many others. By the way Steve, your Hotel/Lodging council has paid for 90% of the YES vote and your people have plastered the small YES signs on poles, fences, over NO signs against the law. YES signs on poles is illegal because they are NOT for a certain candidate for Council but, for a ballot issue and therefore not exempt from the law. I shall report this to Code Enforcement immediately As for your pal Jessica Williamson, she must be melting down to post all over social media and I quote: “That Joan Shannon did not pay for her ad, Arizona Liberty or the Koch Brothers did”. Kyle Larson called and disabused her of that notion. Your angry venting against residents is getting so tired and as for the Chamber, no one is paying any attention. As for your other pal Shari Richards, publicity pamphlet just mailed out PAID FOR BY YOUR PAC, that was the worst piece of publicity ever put out, extremely badly written, incorrect grammar, she didn’t even know how to “construct” a sentence and gave no real details. I also want to point out that all of you hotel/lodging owners donating money or the YES vote are simply writing them off your business accounts which are tax deductible whereas I as a single regular resident had to pay $2100 for the full page in order to be heard. So where is the sacrifice from our industry, I see no donation coming from personal pockets.
I also put my name and all contact information at the bottom of my ad in contrast to what you side reveals NOTHING. where are the names on the ads and flyers? No where to be found
Joan Shannon email@example.com 282-4566
I forgot to state Steve that your small YES signs plastered all over town on power poles, on private fences, over real estate signs on NO signs and the stealing of 30 signs are criminal offences. The ones on poles are NOT exempt because they are political, only allowed if they are promoting a particular candidate for office such as Moriarty or Tonsich or Conrad or Mayor. Ballot issues are ILLEGAL but due to the stealing and defacing your side thinks it is exempt from the law. Joan Shannon
Thank you Joan for your honest evaluation.
Steve Segner and his AZ Elections 18 PAC would have our beautiful, spiritual Sedona become Las Vegas.
Sedona should be preserved and maintained for those that come after us. Long after we have left this piece of Heaven on Earth people will come and view what we did. Will we be proud that we tread lightly? Or do we let those with greed in their heart pave paradise?
WE can tell him and his AZ Elections PAC… NO. NO on Home Rule, NO to all incumbents, NO to ex government workers. NO to greed. NO to paving paradise.
There was a comment in this town that Vegas Spent $300 m in marketing. I thought it strange when when I saw this income vs expense for FY2017. Maybe they said $30 million. Either way comparing Vegas to Sedona is not exactly a brilliant move at any stretch of the imagination.
Putting that aside,
We only have 2 roads. We need to stop comparing Sedona to every town on the planet with a traffic grid system and established connector roads. Never going to happen here. Find a resort city with 2 roads, no connectors, NO HOPE of EVER having a bypass with 10,000 people and compare. If you cannot – STOP IT Ms. Wesselhoff. These endless Chamber “Newsletters” – better known as pitch sheets – promoting you trying to hang on to a $2.5 million gravy train are becoming rather tiresome.
I am not sure if anyone knows what is going on at the Chamber. An external independent audit is not required, and without that no one knows what is going on inside those walls, and frankly I cold care less what they do except we give them 8% OF OUR ENTIRE BUDGET! I think that should be enough of a reason.
It is a contentious time in Sedona. A lack of leadership, amateurs running the city, Attorney General looking under the covers, and people thinking they are going to come to a land locked two road town and make their fortune. Tough enough to just make a living.
I think the citizens make be alert on this election, we have a lot of good folks here, and maybe, just maybe they are a little tired of business as usual. We shall see.
We do provide a little entertainment during the jouney:
This article is more Arizona Liberty claptrap, written by someone with a “no” to everything agenda, filled with misinformation and very poorly understand “facts.” It also uses the classic propaganda technique of attributing its own approach, the use of false facts, personal attacks and misinformation, to someone else. Scan all these posts and you will find that ALL the mean spirited, personal attacks and name calling comes from one side, the so-called patriots. No answers, just nastiness. We need responsible people who treat each other with decency, debate and make decisions with nuance that are based on data (and an understanding of that data), and have the intellectual wherewithal to understand that the world isn’t black and white.
Here are two facts that are independently verifiable, with the county recorders and state attorney general:
1. The opponents of home rule, who are also proposing a ridiculously low budget base adjustment to confuse voters, relied on people who are not even Sedona residents to get their proposition on the ballot.
2. The same group relied on a state legislator who doesn’t even represent Sedona to try to create a phony “investigation” into the city council. This Glendale representative simply filed the accusation as a courtesy to the representative who DOES represent Sedona, Bob Thorpe, who then got caught in the act, and then lied, then got caught lying, then violated public records law by claiming he had no records of his emails with the non-Sedona-representing state legislator. Dishonest? Disgusting? You bet!
Actions always speak louder than words, my friends. And the actions of the No group have been slimy, mean, dishonest and destructive.
We deserve a whole lot better than this crew of miscreants and their efforts to Destroy Everything.
V. Carter – Item 1
A blatantly false statement. $36 million which is the ballot initiative in November is 3 million higher than the last 5 years audited financial statements by the city. That’s a fact but you have to know how to read a financial statement which you should take a course on before you post something.
The person behind the YES initiative does not live int he City of Sedona. Careful where you throw rocks.
16 of our 20 signature gatherers were Sedona residents. The council did not do their job and left a $24.3 million number on the table if Home Rule failed. Suggest you fire the incumbents for dereliction of duty. The citizens had to do what no council in 22 years has done, and to protect this city I would have hired a dozen more people to get the signatures that were required in 9 days. You should have been right there pushing for the initiative if you really cared about protecting the city and giving the city at least the same funds it has been operating under.
V. Carter Item 2
The 1487 complaint was not only not filed by us, but this complaint has been attempted since 1487 became law. You don’t like the law. That is really too bad, as you have no concept of what is going on. Now the 1487 has been amended to a much more serious investigation. But you can keep you head in the sand and allow the city government to run amok. They certainly have been performing on a stellar level. Trying to defeat our Nov. 6th ballot by illegally kicking our signatures – then crawling back when they knew they were going to lose in court, then releasing one of the most skewed and misleading press releases when they did cave. A city manager not presenting the complete financial picture on the options of Home Rule, PBA and the One Time Override as REQUIRED BY LAW? Instead running around and scaring folks with false narratives? I guess you will do anything to protect your $200K plus job.
Maybe you have something to hide personally? Is that why you are so off base and upset?
The CERTIFICATION from the OFFICE OF THE CITY CLERK Signed on July 30, 2018 by Susan L. Irvine, City Clerk, reveals that 111 signatures “Not County of Majority” were uncounted. This is not about “people who are not even Sedona residents” getting their name on the Petition. It is about not counting 111 qualified Sedona voters and petition signers who live within the Sedona city limits.
The City violated State law ARS 19-121.01-04. In the August 10, 2018 RED ROCK NEWS “City Attorney Robert Pickels said he erred in advising City Clerk Susan Irvine that removing 35 non-residents from an initial review of petition signatures was within her authority….The role of verifying validity of signatures belongs to the county recorders.”
I am outraged that mine was among the 111 valid signatures not counted simply because I live in Coconino County not Yavapai County, the so-called County of Majority. One’s county has nothing to do with one’s eligibility.
Please be advised that a $46 million Permanent Base Adjustment will be on the November ballot, not a $25.2 million PBA as some allege.
In my opinion, it was a crime that a lawsuit had to be filed concerning the “Protect Sedona from Excessive Government Spending” Petition (title in Certification documents) to get the City of Sedona to follow the law.
Jean: How does one find out if their name was removed from the roll. I have a friend in Coconino County who has not received her early ballot yet. Joan Shannon
A $36 million Permanent Base Adjustment will be on the November 6th ballot. Please Note: The $46 million PBA indicated in my August 19 Comment is a typo error.
Joan, the July 30, 2018 CERTIFICATION by the City Clerk indicates under “# of Signatures” on the 2nd page: “Not County of Majority on Petition -111.” Residents who live in the Coconino County area of Sedona comprise the -111 valid signatures not counted.
As stated in the lawsuit: “It should also be noted that because this is a city election, one’s county has absolutely nothing to do with one’s eligibility to sign the petition sheet. If the person is a qualified elector of the city of Sedona, he or she may sign. If these 111 signatures are included in the count of valid signatures, there would be over 500 valid signatures [versus 399].” Weren’t the -111 signatures not counted by the City Clerk per the advice of the City Attorney?
Link to CERTIFICATION:
Vote NO on Home Rule. Vote against incumbents.
Why does Segner keep ranting about Las Vegas and Scottsdale. It makes no sense.
Las Vegas,with all the “elements” that go with it, we chose not to live there. It might be a good place for him with all the stimulation coming at him 24/7.
Scottsdale, which we also chose not to live in, might be a better place for him. Please be advised, Segner, Scottsdale will NEVER let you in politically, socially. NEVER.
So Segner is comparing Sedona to Vegas?
If we wanted to live in Vegas we’d move Mr Segner.
We like our peace and quiet, please stop messing with it to make yourself richer.
A chamber expense mentioned in the article is “volunteer recognition at $30,000.” Really? Heck, I’ll recognize volunteers for nothing. Also, if $30K is being spent on volunteers then they aren’t volunteers.
The Red Rock Fake News did a hit piece editorial on me today. It was hilarious.
“perhaps the least qualified candidate for public office in Sedona’s history.”
” He pontificates, bloviates and blusters condescendingly.”
” He is clearly out of his depth, he comes off as ignorantly pompous ”
“Tonsich spent months bashing our newspaper online, ”
“Electing him would be akin to giving a toddler the controls of a Boeing 747, then lighting the jet on fire.”
That’s some funny stuff. You can see how afraid the cabal is to feel the need to put out an editorial like that. Laughing that much first thing in the morning is supposed to be good for you health. I thank the Red Rock Fake News for a good morning laugh.
So the question I have for voters, do you like those in the cabal making your town a tourist trap or do you want to take back your home?
I suggest NO on Home Rule, NO on all incumbents, No to Howe Hudson, a past Canadian government worker.
Red Rock News called it out today:
Yes on Home Rule, and said SB 1350 took away Sedona management of Short term rentals.
We will see next week what Donna V will now go after when Home Rule wins.
The city was correct to not look at PBA at this time (John Currivans and Sedona tea Party folly) this is very important and will take the better part of 2018 and 2019 for staff and the city council and public to study.
With the win of Home Rule the fake, PBA set to vote on in November will be moot . The Home Rule will override.
Both you and the Red Rock Fake News underestimate the intelligence of the Sedona Residents.
Home Rule will Lose
Then voters will have the choice of voting for the PBA that the City staff and current Council except Mr Currivan tried to deny them.
We will take OUR City back. It does not belong to the City staff, Chamber, the Lodging Council or the Red Rock Fake News.
No On Home Rule, No to Incumbents, No to Howes Hudson, a lifetime Canadian Government employee.
I am sure the readers here will vote wisely.
Never been to a meeting ,”Tony Tonsich”,
Fake News, No On Home Rule, No to Incumbents, No to Howes Hudson, a lifetime Canadian Government employee. ? Who does he sound like?
Hint, both know nothing about government, neither read or go to meetings and both have all the answers