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The ongoing dialogue about the future of tourism brought the Lebanon City Council face-to-face with the current chairman and past chairwoman of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission Monday evening.
The conversation never boiled over, but it did heat up at times.
Tourist commission chairman Dan Lawson and former chairwoman Carlotta Brussell addressed the council regarding the 14 suggestions it presented to the tourist commission.
"We just wanted you to know that we took them very seriously," Brussell said.
The council's suggestions included sponsoring more local events, investing in a bricks-and-mortar project, creating a complaint/comment procedure, serving as an event coordinator, not funding events outside of Marion County, creating an ad committee to give insight and approve all advertisements, advertising for all local restaurants instead of a few, making local events a priority and using local businesses to put on events, creating more activities at Centre Square, eliminating advertising for romantic getaway packages and improving communication between committees and boards that have goals similar to the tourist commission.
Lawson went through the list one item at a time to explain how the commission viewed each issue.
Nevertheless, members of the council raised concerns over marketing, which was one of the issues the council had with the commission's 2011-12 budget. The council voted against the commission's budget 4-2 during a meeting June 27.
On Monday, Councilman Kenny Marrett asked if the commission intended to leave $100,000 in the budget for marketing and $58,000 for investments (which is the line-item the commission uses for event funding).
Lawson said that was correct.
"Until those two numbers are reversed, you will not change my mind about tourism," Marrett said.
"Mr. Marrett, I don't think we'll ever change your mind," Lawson replied.
"You're exactly right," Marrett responded.
Lawson added that he thought Marrett's objections to tourism had more to do with personality issues than with business decisions.
Marrett disputed that statement, saying his complaints about tourism have had to do with things like the romantic getaway packages that the commission has promoted.
Councilwoman Kate Palagi said she was also concerned about the percentage of the budget devoted to marketing.
Brussell passed out information showing that Lebanon's tourist commission spent 17 percent of its budget on marketing in 2010-11, while commissions in nearby communities spent closer to 25 percent of their budget for marketing.
Marrett said that made for a good defense by the commission, but he didn't think it worked for Lebanon. Instead, he wanted the commission to provide funding for more local events.
With regard to another of the council's suggestion - that the commission should serve as an event coordinator - Lawson and Brussell said the commission is seeking people to coordinate events, rather than having the commission's two employees take on that responsibility.
Marrett suggested providing funds to local organizations like the Centre Square Foundation Board, the Marion County Chamber of Commerce and the Lebanon Main Street Committee to put on events.
"Give them seed money, then turn them loose, and let them put on the events," he said.
Lawson and Brussell noted that the commission has provided more than $300,000 in funds for 45 events since 2005. Out of those 45 events, 31 no longer exist.
"We do take into consideration every local event that comes before us," Lawson said. "We don't turn anybody away. We offer suggestions and other avenues if we can't help specifically."
Palagi said that people want the commission to provide funding for events in Lebanon, not other communities.
Lawson said the commission's goal is to get people to Lebanon, but some of the most successful events recruited by the commission have originated outside of the county. He named the Jets Over Kentucky model jet show and the Austin Healey car show as examples.
Marrett said he thought both of those events took place in Lebanon, or in the case of the jet show, at the Lebanon airport.
Brussell said some of the commission's work includes cooperative efforts with other communities. She mentioned the Heart of Kentucky Tennis Open, which requested $325 for trophies from the commission Monday afternoon, as an example. The tournament is played on courts at Graham Memorial Park, Marion County High School and in Springfield. She noted that Springfield spent $5,000 to improve its tennis courts to help with the tournament.
Councilman Jerry Abell said he would like to see more events at Centre Square.
Lawson said the commission is working on that. He noted that he had personally brought two concerts to Angelic Hall, and he said the commission had received to proposals for events at Centre Square during its Monday afternoon meeting.
On some of the other issues, the commissioners indicated they felt they were following the council's suggestions - such as including $100,000 for a "bricks-and-mortar" project. Lawson said the commission had some discussion about reviving efforts to build an arena in Lebanon.
Marrett said he would prefer to see efforts to develop the downtown area around the Farmers Market pavilion.
On other matters, Lawson said the commission has adopted the city's complaint/comment form, although the commission said it would not accept anonymous complaints. Although the commission is now more involved in the specifics of marketing decisions, Lawson said he thought that was a waste of time. He said the commission has an executive director who has gone to training about marketing, and he thinks they should follow his recommendations.
Palagi said she'd heard complaints about a local restaurant being left out of a visitor's guide, and she encouraged the commission to provide oversight so that that does not happen in the future.
Toward the end of the discussion, Lawson reminded the council that the commission was coming off its best fiscal year ever in spite of the current economic conditions.
"Give us an opportunity to let us do our job," he said.
Tourism budget approved
On June 27, the city council voted down the commission's proposed 2011-12 budget. Monday night, the council revisited that issue, this time with a different result.
Palagi made the motion to approve the budget with a second from Councilwoman Denise Fogle. Palagi and Fogle cast the two votes in support of the commission's budget previously.
On Monday, the council was split 3-3 on the budget. Councilman Jay Grundy joined Fogle and Palagi and voted in favor of the commission's budget. Councilmen Abell, Marrett and Jim Richardson opposed the budget.
Mayor Gary Crenshaw broke the tie by voting in favor of the budget.