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To put it mildly, Lebanon tourist commissioners Dennis George and Dan Lawson have been having some issues.
No one is saying that people have to be golfing buddies just because they serve on the same commission, but the problem bubbled over into last week’s meeting of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission.
I can’t help thinking that the other members of the commission felt like they had temporarily been held hostage during a special-called meeting on Sept. 13. At that meeting, George decided to air some grievances. In particular, he felt he had been disrespected by Lawson, who is also the commission’s chairman.
Prior to that meeting, George had forwarded copies of what he considered offensive emails to the newspaper. Those emails are public records, and George has more than once tried to prod us to make open records requests to get even more of them.
We read the emails, and while there are comments critical of George, we did not find them nearly as inflammatory as he did. That was apparent last week when George decided to play the Rodney Dangerfield card and used the emails as the basis for a litany of complaints, particularly about Lawson.
A news story about the back-and-forth between George and Lawson appears in today’s paper, but in a way, it may be old news for many of you. A video clip of that exchange has been online for a week, and the meeting in which it occurred has already aired multiple times on Channel 6.
The day after the meeting, George emailed me. He was offended again, this time by a facebook post in which Lawson discussed dealing with “evil” people. George also informed me that Lawson had sent an email asking the commissioners whether or not the former director should hold on to the commission’s cell phone.
George noted that he sent a reply that polling members of the commission violated the open meetings law. Then he added that Steve Lowery (former editor of the Enterprise and the father of our current publisher) taught him that it was the press’s duty to insure accountability.
I talked to Lawson about that. He said the Facebook post was not referring to George, and he admitted that, yes, he had sent an email asking the commissioners’ opinions on the cell phone.
After George informed the commission that polling was an open meetings violation, Lawson said none of commissioners responded to his email and he asked them not to do so. As far as that goes, George did the right thing by keeping the commission from committing a violation. In truth, he kept the commission from doing something it should not do.
Lawson said he now understands that they need to make those decisions in public meetings and he won’t poll the commissioners again.
In talking to Lawson, I also started to think maybe, just maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel. He said that he and George were planning to sit down and talk together. My hope is that whatever personal issues they may have can be resolved so they can have a working relationship as fellow commissioners.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that George has every right to disagree with any or all members of the commission about specific issues. From his time on the city council, I knew that he was never afraid to speak his mind even if his views run contrary to the majority view.
But during his time on the commission, a rift has developed that seemed more personal. Maybe last week’s public squabble was a tipping point for everyone involved. I know members of the commission want to work more cooperatively, and the fact that Lawson and George were willing to sit down together is a positive sign.
The commission is in the process of selecting its next executive director. According to Lawson, 29 people have applied for the position. In the coming weeks, they will be narrowing that list, and shortly thereafter, they will be picking a new face for tourism in Lebanon.
The past 14 months have been a difficult time for tourism, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone involved has learned a lot.
I know in my own life, lessons learned the hard way often have the most long-term impact. Perhaps, the commission’s recent experience will make them stronger going forward.