Editor’s note: Albany attorney Phil Cannon distributed this public letter today. Cannon is a founder of the Albany Downtown Merchants Association and is a member of the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority.
Thave spoken with many people and met with many groups since my recent public expression regarding the separation of the CVB and Chamber of Commerce. I would like to provide a few facts to support my conclusion.
First, I need to provide a little history. When the Hotel/Motel tax was first implemented the Chamber was the entity providing the services required by the Hotel/Motel Statute. In 2005, the City was solicited by the Chamber, namely Sara Underdown, who was acting as the CVB Vice President, to increase the hotel/motel tax to 7% and increase the CVB portion from 40% to 50%. The City allowed this increase. The City and Chamber entered into a written agreement. A couple of the sentences in the agreement are pertinent:
“These monies will be used solely for the purpose of promoting tourism, conventions and trade shows.”
“Chamber agrees that it must maintain adequate internal financial controls and maintain a necessary paper trail to document all expenditures.”
As a result, although the CVB remained in the same building as the Chamber, the CVB for the first time set up it’s own checking account and had to account for the money to the City, which was done on a monthly basis. $48,000.00 of this hotel/motel tax money continued to be given to the Chamber for Administrative Fees, just as had been going on for years. The reasoning– the two entities shared an accountant, a graphic design person, electricity, water, copier, receptionist, meeting rooms, etc.; those things every business uses in the ordinary course of business on a daily basis. These two entities operated in the same physical building and shared all of these expenses.
In 2008 the CVB moved into the Bridge House, located on Front Street in River Front park. At this point the CVB began incurring it’s own, utility, water, copier, meeting room, maintenance bills and hired several part time workers to staff the new Welcome Center. Logic says the $48,000.00 contribution to the Chamber for “shared resources” would DECREASE significantly, because the CVB was now paying these on it’s own. However, the first year the CVB moved, the amount only dropped $3,000.00. The following year this administrative fee for “shared resources” increased to $108,192.00, over a $63,000.00 increase. The only change was the employment of Catherie Glover at the Chamber. The only conclusion that can be reached is hotel/motel tax money is being used to pay non-tourism staff. Remember, for the first year Mrs. Glover did nothing for the CVB.
The prior director of the CVB was making $58,000.00, with benefits. Separating these two entities and paying a new director the $58,000.00 immediately puts approximately $68,000.00 back in the CVB budget for tourism promotion purposes: $63,000.00 from not paying Mrs. Glover plus $5,000.00 because competent great CVB directorship can be hired for $58,000.00.
It has also come to my attention Catherine Glover seems to be the type of person who grabs unearned attention, as evidenced by the timing of Mrs. Riddle’s termination and the statewide recognition of the CVB. This issue was given much thought and considerstion. The conclusion is: this appears to be true based on the following facts:
1)Remember, Mrs. Riddle had nothing negative in her personnel file and the stated reason for the firing was Mrs. Riddle discussed Mrs. Glover’s salary with a fellow staff member, the salary being public record anyway. This seems to be a contrived reason.
2)The governor’s conference was upcoming and the CVB was set to receive several awards, and in fact did approximately 2 weeks after the firing. Those were:
a)The Albany CVB was recognized for being the third in the state to receive the Gold Level Benchmark Certification from the GA Association of CVBs. There are now only four CVB’s in the state with this accreditation level.
b)The Albany CVB was also featured by GA Production Partners with the commercials from the 2010 GPP photo contest from last years Governors Conference.
c)The award for having the Rock, Roll and Run weekend being named on the Top 20 events in the Southeastern United States.
d)The CVB was in the first group of 16 to have it’s community designated as a Camera Ready Community.
These are all awards received for work done by the CVB staff prior to the firing of Mrs. Riddle. Based on the reputation and timing of the firing it appears Mrs. Glover fired Mrs. Riddle when she did, so Mrs. Glover could grab the awards and list them on her resume as accomplishments received while she was over the CVB. This is the action of an individual building a resume who intends to move on, using Albany as a stepping stone.
3)Last weekend the FlintFest music festival was held downtown in River Front Park. Several of us were on location Friday from 3:00pm till 10:00pm Friday night, back at 8:00am Saturday till 1:00am Sunday and back at 8:00am Sunday for everything from set up, trash, clean up and break down. Mrs. Glover was present from about 1:00pm till 6:00pm Saturday only. She was given a promotional FlintFest t-shirt listing all sponsors but she refused to wear it, although she did have on an Albany Shirt. I personally saw her the majority of the time sitting in an office of the CVB. She talked with a commissioner most of the time alone and for another lengthy period of time with the same commissioner and the Chairman of the Chamber Board. (It can only be imagined the topic of that conversation.) She then fulfilled her obligation for the festival, which was stand on stage and hand out awards, which she did and within the hour was gone.
Again, logic says this is not the action of someone who is promoting tourism or putting heads in beds. The Chamber is desperately trying to keep this hotel/motel tax within their own budget. Money is being used to pay the salary of someone who is not trying to put heads in beds and instead is building her own resume and using our community as a stepping stone.