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Glenwood chamber, council at odds over tourism contract

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association and the Glenwood City Council had a heated debate on whether or not the city should open the tourism promotion contract to a public bidding process.

The Glenwood Chamber has been awarded the contract on an annual basis for the past 22 years as a sole-source no-bid contract. However, some council members strongly suggested that the process be changed. Typically, sole-source contracts are issued in situations where only one person or company can provide the contractual services needed.

Some council members thought that not issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) went against their oath as public stewards.

“I took an oath to represent the people the best way that I could,” said Councilor Leo McKinney. “And giving money away in a no-bid situation, I don’t feel that I’m living up to that standard.”

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Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christensen agreed with McKinney that the current process opened the city, and council, to scrutiny from constituents.

“I think that we have an absolute responsibility,” Christensen said. “I can’t imagine that the city council would not be subjected to furor, if we did this with any other entity.”

Funds for the promotion contract are raised through accommodations tax revenues. The total amount of accommodations tax collected by the city in a year is split into two different programs: 80 percent goes into the tourism promotion fund to develop and implement a marketing plan promoting Glenwood Springs, related administrative expenses and operation of a visitors center. The other 20 percent is allocated for tourism promotion grants.

According to Collins, the defunct City Tourism Commission used to oversee the administration of the funds and would hire an outside advertising agency to run the promotion campaign, before the chamber took over the marketing in 1988.

Council is in a bit of a time crunch because the contract is typically awarded in the spring, for the following year. The Glenwood Chamber has already received the tourism promotion contract of $600,000 for 2010. The 2010 budget was a 20 percent decrease from the 2009 marketing budget of approximately $754,000. In the past four years the Chamber has received $2.8 million in tourism promotion contracts, and Council extended the chamber’s contract at Thursday’s council meeting through 2011. However, Council set a date in June for a work session to further discuss if they would want to issue an RFP for the 2012 contract.

Christensen, and others, felt that the sheer amount of the contracts was reason enough to at least see what the other options are available.

“I think that we are negligent if we spend that kind of money without at least seeing what else is available,” Christensen said.

Kate Collins, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s vice president of tourism marketing, defended the chamber’s position given the long-standing history, and said that opening the contract to bids, given the current economic climate, would contradict the council’s position as it attempts to rework the city’s local preference code.

“It seems like it would be inconsistent to put this out regionally, statewide, or even to a larger arena with advertising agencies from outside Colorado,” Collins said.

Collins said that the Chamber has developed a brand with an ongoing campaign to promote Glenwood Springs and that giving the contract to another entity at this point would be an unwise choice.

“Now is a very risky time to try and have an experiment with putting this out to bid,” Collins said.

Councilor Russ Arensman was not in favor of rushing to issue an RFP for the 2011 contract, and was concerned that the bid process would open the door for advertising companies from outside the region to swoop in and underbid the Chamber, which would ultimately take money out of Glenwood Springs.

“I’m inclined to say that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” Arensman said. “I don’t see that we have a problem here.”

Councilor Stephen Bershenyi was somewhat conflicted with the issue. However, he too, felt that because the contract involves public funds that it should be an open public process. He said that the issue had nothing to do with the service the Chamber provides.

“I have no reason to denigrate the product. That is not what this is about,” he said. “It’s about being a good steward with the public’s money.”

Christensen especially felt that specific issues with the contract itself needed to be addressed, as well – such as who oversees and administers the funds, which is currently done by the tourism board.

Councilman Dave Sturges said that it was his opinion that oversight and administration should be done by a city staff member, or by Council, rather than the tourism board which is a sub-committee of the chamber board. Members of the tourism board are also appointed by the chamber board, as well.

While Councilor Matt Steckler, who is also the Council representative on the tourism board, was in favor of keeping with the “status quo,” he said, that oversight of the funds was an area that needed to be further examined.

“Some sort of external audit procedure is warranted for the amount of money that is being awarded on the contract,” Steckler said.

Frustration grew over the hour and a half discussion, none more than for Christensen who said that something needed to be done because this same conversation has been ongoing for years.

“We’ve been through so many of these discussions over the past several years and we always end up exactly where we are right now,” Christensen said. “If that is the case, then we ought to just say that [the contract] is permanently designated to the chamber of commerce.”

jgardner@postindependent.com


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