Tourism has invested in the community

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The following is similar to the resignation letter Jim Richardson submitted to Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw and Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission Chairwoman Carlotta Brussell. Richardson has served on the tourism commission since its inception, but he resigned last week.

I’ve spent over seven years on the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission (LTCC). I served as its first chairperson, currently serve as its treasurer, and have attended over 100 tourism meetings since 2003 to further the mission and goals of our group, and in the process, better our town. A few weeks ago, I was amazed to learn that in less than six meetings as a commissioner, Lebanon City Councilman Kenny Marrett had determined that “the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission was on a path to destruction.” 

Let me assure you and the general public that the LTCC is NOT on a path to destruction. It is however, on a path to being destroyed. It is Councilman Marrett’s single-minded mission to destroy it. In my opinion, that stems from the fact that five of seven members voted not to approve “contributions” to one of his projects (although we funded others). Meeting after meeting we attempted to educate Mr. Marrett about the framework we all worked so carefully and tirelessly to build. There are things/events we’ll invest in, and things/events we won’t. That doesn’t mean the things we won’t invest in aren’t good and worthwhile projects. It simply means that those projects don’t fit the mission (and legislative purpose) of a tourism commission.  

Please note above, my use of “investment” versus “contribution.” In its broadest sense, the LTCC exists to attract “heads in beds” - (more motel room stays); and “cheeks in seats” - (more restaurant patrons for all of our food establishments). “Investing” in these two items generates more sales for ALL business - more shopping, gas sales, etc. - “return on investment” - you get the picture. More sales (business), means more jobs for Lebanon/Marion County. So you see - tourism is economic development!

It’s perplexing to me, this attack by Mr. Marrett. I have seen firsthand the good work that he’s done for the city. He’s also been a successful businessman.  And, he’s garnered enough votes to continue as a councilman. He obviously has some community support. On this issue however, he’s absolutely wrong!

In my time on the commission, not every vote has gone my way. I wouldn’t expect it to. Our mayor has appointed qualified, strong willed people over the years to the city’s boards and commissions, including the LTCC. At the LTCC, we come together, talk things out, and come to a consensus. That’s the way good government works. We are NOT there to do whatever a single commissioner or council person (or even group of them) tell(s) us to do. We’ll listen, like we listen to all who come to make grant requests of us.  

If LTCC is just there to do what council members ask of us, why have a Board at all? Just let the Council make the decision. The reason the council should NOT make the decision is this - to take politics out of the equation. True, the council is the only “elected” body. LTCC commissioners are appointed by the mayor. Also true, council members get the calls from constituents when those constituents are upset by something that hasn’t gone their way (but I assure you, we get our share too). While that may be difficult, it comes with the territory. While the elected council members must and should listen to their constituents, they must also do what is right (and that may not be what an “uninformed” constituent believes/wants).  

I have heard that Mr. Marrett has said he’s got the votes to get rid of tourism in January when the new council convenes. I don’t know whether he does or not.  All I can ask of the new and returning council members is this - educate yourselves about tourism. Don’t base your decision on “complaint calls” from a dozen or less people. Most of them are not well-informed about what we do and why we do it. And many of them have been “poisoned” by Mr. Marrett’s half-truths about the situation. More important than a few phone calls, are the results we’ve achieved and the economic impact we’ve made. If you want an unbiased source of information, why not ask the professionals - the folks at the state tourism commission? Or, perhaps, ask those running successful events (supported by the tourism commission). You’ll find they regard our approach as an example to be held out to other areas of the state as “folks who are doing it right!”  You’ll have one of the state’s tourism professionals at the “First Friday Forum” on Dec. 3. Want more?  Pick up the phone and call them!

As I told one of my fellow commissioners last week after another hour and a half meeting trying to justify our position (which shouldn’t need justification), “I’m old, I’m tired, and I’m out of gas.” I no longer have the will to fight the ignorance and half-truths recently disseminated by Councilman Marrett and his select group of friends. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled with my resignation as a member of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission (which I hereby tender, effective immediately). I leave it to the new council; the remaining five, and the two new appointees of the LTCC, to continue to fight the fight. Folks this is important! This is more than tourism! This is economic development!

Editor’s note: James W. Richardson recently resigned as the treasurer and as a commissioner of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission.