LTVA narrows the field in search for new executive director |

LTVA narrows the field in search for new executive director

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Imagine going on a job interview in a public forum.

That’s precisely what a well-known Douglas County marketer and Arizona tourism executive plan to do Thursday in vying for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority’s top job.

The LTVA narrowed its search for a new executive director to Bill Chernock, an LTVA board member and M.S. Dixie II marketing manager, and Lake Havasu Tourism Bureau President Bonnie Barsness. The two candidates will present their qualifications and answer questions Thursday in front of the LTVA board at the Horizon Casino Resort at 3 p.m.

The largest tourism agency for the Lake Tahoe Basin — with its $3 million budget funded primarily with public monies — has needed someone to take the helm after former director Terry LeBan resigned in December. She cited mental and physical disabilities caused by a tragic car accident which occurred a month prior.

LeBan also was investigated for allegedly misappropriating the agency’s funds.

“This is high stakes not only for the candidates but for the community,” Chairwoman Deb Howard said Monday.

She agrees the public interview may seem bizarre, but the board “has gone to great lengths to make sure that (the process) isn’t a zoo.”

Board members Don Miner, Tom Davis and John Wagnon screened 67 applicants. About half were local residents. The pool was later whittled down to a list of six semifinalists, who interviewed with the selection committee two weeks ago.

LTVA Interim Executive Director Sue Barton did not apply for the job. She wants to return to the agency’s programs manager position.

The new director’s salary will range from $65,000 to $85,000.

In an application letter addressed to Howard, Chernock brought up striking the balance between moving with the “changing science of marketing” and the old challenge of maintaining funding.

A proposal is on the table from the South Lake Tahoe city manager’s office to pull some of that funding in the city’s aim to rectify a $2 million budget shortfall.

Chernock, who said Monday he’s gratified to have made it this far in the selection process, knows tough times in a flat economy. He touts doubling gross revenues in a decade for Aramark Corporation. Chernock has worked for the company since 1989, marketing the M.S. Dixie paddlewheelers, Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center and Zephyr Cove Resort.

The current Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce president has logged 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry on the South Shore, so he’s ready to put that knowledge to work for the community, he said in the letter.

When asked of the advantages of hiring a local for the job, Chernock responded by citing a local’s shortening of the learning curve.

Barsness warned that hiring a local on that basis alone may result in a candidate “too close to the forest to see the trees.” She advocates “a fresh, outsider perspective to the situation.”

Barsness has covered the western map of the United States. She’s worked as the chief executive officer of Lake Havasu’s tourism agency since 1996, handling a $1 million budget. Before her current job, she administered a $4 million state tourism budget for North Dakota,

her home state for 20 years. She brings years of experience in the health care field, following a stint as a travel agent.

Barsness said she makes a point of attending as many seminars as possible in a variety of areas, stretching from leadership and tourism marketing to Web site development and sales.

The longtime marketing executive, who was unavailable for comment Monday, believes publicizing Tahoe’s daily events is imperative.

As far as news for her board, Barsness operates on the motto of “no surprises.”

Criminal charges have not been filed against former Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority Executive Director Terry LeBan, but two District Attorney’s offices are reviewing the case, which involves the possible mishandling of the agency’s funds. The amount of impropriety in question added up to a little less than $12,000.

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department turned over the case against the Gardnerville woman to Douglas and El Dorado counties a few weeks ago. Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said Monday he expects his office to decide if it will file charges within a week.

An audit pointed to alleged check forging, misusing the agency’s credit cards and misreporting payroll records by LeBan, 52, and the agency’s former Controller Debra Kirk, 49.

Kirk was killed in a car accident in November.

The agency may seek civil restitution against LeBan, but Attorney George Echan predicts that won’t occur until the final findings of a current extensive audit are reported.

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