Tourism commissioner, chairman ask one another to resign

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Accusations of disrespect on both sides

By Stephen Lega

An otherwise routine meeting of the Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission was disrupted when a commissioner decided to air some grievances, particularly with the commission's chairman.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, Commissioner Dennis George used the executive director's report as a jumping off point to express his frustration. The report was the final one submitted by Chris Hamilton before he started his new job with the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

What started as a discussion of whether or not commission employees should take time or even had the time to visit local businesses shifted into George recounting a series of instances in which he felt he had been "chastised" by Chairman Dan Lawson in emails. George would go on to ask Lawson to resign as chairman.

Lawson responded by saying he felt George had disrespected him, and in turn, he asked George to resign from the commission.

George's litany of complaints centered around emails that had been sent to the commissioners by Lawson. George read from some of those emails during the meeting, saying that his ideas were not appreciated.

"I get another email basically chastising me time and again and then said, 'If the only reason you wanted to get appointed to tourism was to get [Hamilton] fired and throw obstacles in our way, then I wish you would resign,'" George said, referring to one of Lawson's emails.

George said he joined the commission as one of Hamilton's supporters, and he seemed to take credit for the commission's continued existence.

"Tourism was doomed until some of us, [Commissioner] Carlotta [Brussell] included, in support of the board went to the council," George said.

He also said he had been threatened with having ethics charges filed against him.

"My response is if I have done something wrong, press charges," George said. "I take offense to that when I am also trying to be part of this organization."

He continued to say that he was offended when Lawson chastised the commissioners for not supporting the Heart of Kentucky Christian Youth Rally.

"It wasn't chastising," Lawson responded to George. "It was just explaining my feelings."

George again read from the email.

"'You guys turned me down,'" he read.

Lawson was one of the event organizers who had requested $7,500 from the commission. Lawson did not vote on that grant request, and the commission decided to provide $2,500.

Another point of contention was whether or not George was the head of the marketing committee (which includes all the commissioners). He said recent committee meetings had been scheduled at times when he could not attend because of his work commitments.

"I was under the impression that if I'm in charge of marketing or a marketing leader that I would know what was going on in the marketing committee meetings," George said.

Lawson later responded by asking George if he would like them to change the meeting times to suit him. He also said that he had removed George as the marketing committee chairman.

"Every single email you got after I instructed you what to do for us, you sent to me, so I was doing your job for you anyway," Lawson said.

He added that the emails he sent to George came right back to him.

"You were sending a ton of emails that didn't amount to a hill of beans. It wasn't any real detail-specific whatsoever," Lawson said. "You were filling my inbox up with stuff just to be sending me emails."

George also said he had a problem with an email sent last week in which he felt Lawson singled him out as the reason why Lawson had to put up some of his own money for Building 429's performance at the youth rally.

"I have tried to be a team-player," George said. 

He continued to say that the fact that he no longer wanted Hamilton to lead tourism has affected the way he is treated.

"I'm tired of these damn childish emails where you chastise me like I'm a little kid," George said.

"Absolutely," Lawson replied, "especially when you start 'em, Mr. George."

That's when George made his request of Lawson.

"If that is how you are going to handle your position as chairmanship and treat members of this commission, I would like to hope that you would consider resigning as chairperson," he said.

Lawson made it clear that was not going to happen.

"I don't feel I've treated anybody with disrespect," Lawson said, later adding, "If you're going to treat me that way, disrespectful as the chair, I would like for you to resign."

The bickering finally stopped when Commissioners Tom Lund and Brad Lanham interrupted. 

Lund reminded the commissioners of a letter they had received from Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw (see page A6) advising them what everybody's role should be, and Lanham reminded the commission that they were in a special-called meeting and should get back on track.

Despite the disruption, the commission did conduct some business during the meeting: 

- Marion County Extension Agent Elizabeth Creed and Martha Potter made a request for $1,000 on behalf of the Marion County Homemakers for the 2012 Kentucky Bluegrass Quilt Show. The quilt show is planned to be held in conjunction with the Kentucky Bluegrass Music Kickoff.

The commission voted 3-1 to approve $500 for the quilt show. Commissioners Carlotta Brussell, Nancy Higdon and Lund voted in favor, and George was opposed. Lanham (who is one of the organizers of the bluegrass festival) and Lawson did not vote, and Commissioner David Winebrenner was not present at the meeting.

- The commission voted unanimously to approve a request for two free uses of Centre Square on behalf of Kentucky Classic Theatre. Robin Humphress made the request, saying they would like to perform a melodrama during the Dickens Christmas and during the Heart of Kentucky Holiday Festival. 

Humphress said she believed she could find sponsors to cover the costs of putting on the performance. (Editor's note: This portion of the story has been corrected from a previous version.)

 - The commission went into executive session to discuss the possible acquisition of property.