A Closer Look: Tourism marketing debate gets compared with ‘circus’
The thorny issue of using city money for tourism promotion grew a bit pricklier at last week’s South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting.
A debate over a funding agreement between the city and the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority included council members accusing each other of creating a “circus” and the revelation that a black hole apparently has been swallowing up financial reports the LTVA has been sending to City Hall.
The flap, which put LTVA Executive Director Patrick Kaler on the hot seat, was followed by an announcement of Kaler’s resignation a few days later. Kaler said this week that the two events are not related (see below).
The issue was not whether the city should give money to the LTVA to promote tourism. That question was settled months ago, when the council approved giving the visitors authority $350,000 this fiscal year.
But five months after the fiscal year’s Oct. 1 start, the LTVA has not received any of the funds. That’s because the council had not yet approved a formal funding agreement.
Council member Bill Crawford said at last week’s meeting that since the LTVA had gone this long without the money, maybe it doesn’t need it.
“Maybe we should cut the allocation in half,” he suggested.
Councilwoman Kathay Lovell voted against the agreement Tuesday. She said the LTVA had not been providing the city with quarterly reports required by the previous year’s agreement (and also required under the new agreement), spelling out “how the contribution of these funds improves the generation of transient occupancy taxes, average daily room rates, the occupancy rate within the city limits, and how funds provided grow the ‘top line.’ “
“If an organization is growing the top line, I’m going to support that,” Lovell said. “But I need that evidence.”
Councilman Ted Long said he had delivered a 12-page report from the LTVA at the council’s previous meeting.
And Kaler said he had been sending monthly reports to the city. City Manager David Jinkens said he had not seen them.
“My staff tells me that we have gotten on occasion agendas of LTVA meetings in the past that may have included agenda-related background information,” Jinkens said in an e-mail this week. “This is the extent of communication to the best of my knowledge.”
The council ultimately approved the funding agreement by a 3-2 vote, with Lovell and Crawford opposed. Crawford had called for postponing the vote, giving officials a chance to figure out what happened to the financial reports.
Crawford compared the situation with one last summer, in which funds earmarked for tourism marketing were shifted to the fire department for emergency radios and fuels reduction, then shifted back to marketing. Crawford and Lovell voted against returning the funds to marketing. On Tuesday, Crawford called the sequence of events “a ridiculous circus.”
“We made ourselves look like monkeys,” Crawford said.
Mayor Mike Weber responded to the jab.
“Regarding a circus. … It’s what happens if a minority position decides to keep bringing up an issue,” Weber said. He noted that he had been the lone dissenter when the council approved a nearly million-dollar, no-bid contract with a consultant to work on the city’s general plan.
“I could have made it a circus. I could keep bringing it up. But I choose not to,” Weber said.
Despite Weber’s admonition, it seems unlikely the debate over marketing funds will go away anytime soon.
Just three days after the council’s lively debate, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority announced that Executive Director Patrick Kaler would be resigning after 3 1/2 years with the organization. The resignation is effective March 31.
In an interview this week, Kaler said the timing of the two events is merely coincidence.
“My departure had nothing to do with the city council,” he said. “It’s an amicable parting of the ways. There was no forced resignation or anything like that.”
Kaler said he has nothing immediate lined up; rather, he’ll be taking some time to look at other opportunities. Although he said he loves Lake Tahoe, he’s not sure he’ll stay in the area.
Despite her concerns about the LTVA funding agreement, Councilwoman Kathay Lovell had praise for Kaler at last week’s meeting.
“He has really turned around this organization,” Lovell said.
” Elaine Goodman is city editor at the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She can be reached at (530) 542-8006 or email@example.com.