Pay decision pending for tourism director

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Commission will discuss tourism director's salary in January

By Stevie Lowery

While other tourism bureaus across the state and country are feeling the financial strain of the economy, the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission is experiencing a $30,000 increase in revenue compared to last year, and it is under budget in its expenses. But, apparently that's not enough proof that its director deserves a raise.

In May, the commission voted that it wanted to leave salaries flat and reconsider giving pay raises at the six-month period if revenue increased.

Monday, pay raises for the commission's two employees was a key topic of conversation during its regular monthly meeting.

"Your decision was based on waiting to see if the revenue was going to increase, which it has," Chris Hamilton, the commission's executive director, said. "I'm asking for you to do what you said you would do."

According to Hamilton, during the past six months, the commission's revenue has increased and it's nearly $21,000 over budget in revenue. The commission has experienced only a slight decline (less than one percent) in economic impact during the "worst economy in our lifetimes," Hamilton said in the commission's mid-year review.

"With three percent raises, we would still come in under budget $3,000 for the fiscal year," Hamilton said.

Commissioner David Winebrenner Jr., said, from a performance standpoint, Hamilton and his assistant, Carla Wagner, have done an exceptional job.

"Locally, we are doing better than the country as a whole," Winebrenner said. "I think a lot of that has to do with the work that Chris has done... Nena (Tharp) has done and Carla is now doing... That productivity is coming through on these numbers and I appreciate that very much."

Nena Tharp was Hamilton's assistant from 2005 to 2010, which is when she resigned to become the assistant tourism director in Elizabethtown. Wagner was hired as Tharp's replacement.

However, according to Commissioner Nancy Higdon, because of recent happenings involving the tourism commission, she doesn't feel comfortable approving pay raises.

"In light of things that are happening in the community with our commission, I just don't feel real good about doing something at this time," she said.

Higdon didn't specify what she was referring to, but there was a recent controversy following the resignation of the commission's treasurer, Jim Richardson, and the conflict the commission has been having with Lebanon City Councilman Kenny Marrett, who served on the commission in June after being appointed by Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw, only to resign shortly thereafter in October.

However, Hamilton said he shouldn't be penalized for those occurrences.

"Are our raises going to be based on what we do for this organization or whether somebody out there doesn't want us to have raises or not?" Hamilton said. "It's your decision to make, not somebody else's... I certainly don't want to be penalized, and I definitely don't want Carla to be penalized, for the unhappiness of a few other people. But, it's your call. It's your decision."

Chairwoman Carlotta Brussell said that she believed the commission needed to have a planning session to develop a more formalized policy for pay raises. The rest of the commission agreed, but Winebrenner said the planning session should happen sooner than later.

"I don't think it's fair to continue to drag out whatever decision we make for months," he said. "I think we ought to have this session at the beginning of the year and make a decision. Then, let's move forward."

Commissioner Dan Lawson agreed.

"We need to give them something solid, too," he said. "We can't be dangling a carrot in front of them. We've got to stick to what we say we're going to do...  Their performance has been outstanding as far as I can see."

Chairwoman Brussell asked if the commission could review Hamilton's assistant's salary differently, being that she was on a "probationary" wage of $9 an hour. The commission voted to give Wagner a 3 percent raise.

Hamilton's compensation will be determined in January, according to Brussell.

"But, the past six months don't mean anything?" Hamilton asked.

"That will be part of the discussion in January," Brussell said.

Protecting the "Heart of Kentucky" brand and logo...

The Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission persistently promotes the City of Lebanon as the Heart of Kentucky and has paid a great deal of money ($5,370) to buy and own that brand, according to Hamilton. To protect that brand, he and Wagner spend a great deal of time making sure that the brand isn't used by any other organization in the state.

According to Commissioner Tom Lund, Hamilton's and Wagner's efforts to protect the brand has ruffled the feathers of some people at Campbellsville University.

The tourism office recently sent an email to the offices of Campbellsville University, requesting that they stop using the phrase "heart of Kentucky" on the university's web site.

"They are very upset about it," Lund said. "They have an attorney looking into it."

According to Lund, the university was simply stating on its web site that the school is located in the heart of Kentucky and university officials didn't think the tourism commission could stop them from doing that.

"But, furthermore, they said, 'We thought you were our friends over there,'" Lund said. "What's the problem here? Why is there such an issue with them saying they are located in the heart of Kentucky?"

According to Hamilton, the answer is simple, it's Lebanon's brand.

"The Heart of Kentucky is in Lebanon," Hamilton said. "We intend to be the only place that is considered located in the heart of Kentucky."

However, Hamilton said if the commission didn't want him to pursue this any longer, he won't.

"But, we've paid a lot of money to buy and own that phrase," he said. "It doesn't really do us any good to own that brand if we're not actually going to pursue it."

According to Lund, the way this was handled with Campbellsville University wasn't appropriate.

"You're making some pretty powerful people mad," Lund said.

Brussell said the commission should re-evaluate how the process is handled, so as to not upset anyone.

"We have to look at the way we talk to these people and deal with these people," she said. "But, I do think we need a consistent policy."

It's crucial that the commission continue protecting its brand, Hamilton said.

"If we're not going to defend the trademark vigorously we're essentially giving it up," he said.

However, Lund said, by spending time with these type of issues the commission is losing its focus.

"I think we ought to get back in the tourism business instead of pursuing people over our brand," Lund said.

But, protecting their brand is a part of tourism, Hamilton said.

"Brand promotion is a huge part of tourism," he said.

Hamilton said he would communicate the commissioners' dialogue and concerns to the commission's trademark attorney and seek his opinion on the matter.

Coach USA tour coming to Lebanon

Chris Hamilton, executive director of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission, informed the tourism board that he has finalized plans for the Coach USA bus tour coming in September of 2011. They have booked 27 rooms for three nights at the Hampton Inn and he has orchestrated some meal functions for them along with an itinerary of activities.

Coach USA operates scheduled bus routes, motorcoach tours, charters, and city sightseeing tours.

The Turtle Man

Terry Smith called Hamilton and suggested that the tourism commission have signs at the entrance to the City of Lebanon that say "Home of Ernie 'The Turtle Man' Brown.