Should Chamber CVB separate?

Should the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce be separated from the Convention and Visitors Bureau?

That's the question posed from several business leader, but it not up to the Chamber to decide.

It would be up to the city who set up the management agreement of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Monday Chamber officials say the partnership is a good match that saves both money that's put back into recruiting visitors to town.

Business owners point to this 2006, Randall Travel Marketing survey that many businesses participated in. It recommended the growing Convention and Visitors Bureau be split from the Chamber and be an independent entity, but chamber officials say the trend is moving CVB's back in with Chamber to downsize.

At recent a Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board meeting new hotel owner Bo Henry questioned where the hotel and motel tax he pays goes? Last month, his payment was $8,000 to the city.

"All that money is collected to be used to bring people to town and tourism and conventions and whatever to put people into the hotels," said Bo Henry, co-owner of Merry Acres Inn and Convention Center.

Henry wants to ensure that's exactly where it's headed as an independent hotel owner who has put a lot into his hotel and doesn't have a lot to spend on advertising. The question sparked a letter from Attorney Phil Cannon who dislikes the Chamber's decision to fire CVB Director Lisa Riddle and put Catherine Glover in charge of both the CVB and Chamber. Henry also worries that the CVB's focus will be lost.

"Sometimes when you have different missions then you can't focus on, each one can't put 100 percent focus on what that mission is," said Henry..

The city set up the partnership. Under state mandate the hotel and motel tax is split between the CVB and the city. Last year, the two split 1.2 million dollars generated by the tax. The Chamber's Board President says the partnership saves money in the long run.

"The CVB and the Chamber share employees, they share recourses, the person that does the markets and sales of sponsorships for the chamber is the same person who does marketing and sales for the CVB," said Judy Randle, Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Board President.

Neither Judy Randle nor Bobby McKinney feel they can discuss the personnel issue, but say the Convention and Visitor's Bureau's focus won't be lost without it's own director.

"Are we going to continue the full support of hotel and motels that we have been doing and the answer to that is yes," said Bobby McKinney, Albany Chamber Vice-President in charge of Tourism.

They say it's up to the city to continue the partnership, and it's the city that set up the management fee that's paid by the CVB with the directive that the funding is to manage the CVB.

The half the motel/hotel tax that the city keeps they say goes back into entities like the Albany Civic Center and Albany Municipal Auditorium that bring events and visitors into Albany.

A majority of the Chamber funding comes from business member ship fees and sponsorships they receive for local events.

Here's a copy of Phil Cannon's letter to commissioners and city leaders.

10 years ago Bo Henry and I started discussing a street festival in downtown.

Bo had just opened Harvest Moon and I had just purchased and started renovating my building Downtown. Soon thereafter Tommy Gregors and Thronateeska came into the picture. Just after the second festival Sara Underdown took over the CVB. Lisa Riddle took over as the CVB's Convention Services Manager. Sara and Lisa came up with the idea of adding a bike race to the event. Lisa was hands on from the beginning with the bike race. Her husband is an outdoor enthusiast and cyclist and the biking community was behind them and the event 100%. This idea was a perfect fit for an addition to the Mardi Gras Street Festival.

Soon thereafter Sara and Dr. Jose Tongol came up with the idea of adding the Marathon. Lisa was involved from the beginning, handling all of the logistics while Sara handled the politics inherent in adding such a major event. After Sara retired, Lisa was promoted to the Director of the CVB in June 2008.

Lisa Riddle knows absolutely every square inch of the bike race and marathon. From setting up routes to getting the marathon approved as a Boston Qualifier. Lisa has been the energy and drive behind these two events since they were only ideas at a conference table. Sara and Lisa recognized the street festival as an event that would give downtown a place in the future of Albany and Dougherty County. It fit perfectly with the CVBs directive, Putting Heads in Beds. Since then Lisa has done everything possible to coordinate this directive with not only the Mardi Gras Street Festival, an event that rivals with ASU Homecoming as the largest economic impact for the county, but every other event that takes place in Dougherty County. Lisa, as head of the CVB, visits area hotels on a regular basis. She is active in actually going into the hotels and visiting with managers. Managers report this to me regularly. I have never had even one business person tell me Catherine Glover has visited any local tourism business.

The Chamber has made a huge mistake in firing Lisa. The stated reason for firing her was because she discussed a salary issue with a co-worker. As I understand it, Lisa explained to a new Chamber employee HOW the salary of Catherine Glover is paid, not the amount. The true motivation is: the Chamber does not want the public to know HOW the salary of Mrs. Glover is paid. The Chamber had to manipulate the rules to pay Catherine Glover the salary she demanded as a condition to have her move to Albany Ga. This excessive salary demand was not within the Chamber's budget. The Chamber created a position to put Mrs. Glover in charge of the CVB and split her salary between the Chamber and CVB. The public needs to know the portion of Mrs. Glovers salary that comes from the CVB is paid with public dollars. The CVB's budget is derived from the local Hotel/Motel tax. The Chamber does not want the public to know they manipulated the circumstances and used public tax payer dollars to pay the excessive demand made by Mrs. Glover. The Chamber does not want the public to know for her first year in Albany she did not attend CVB meetings or have anything to do with the CVB. During the first review of Mrs. Glover's job she was told to spend more time at the CVB. The Chamber used tax payers dollars to pay a salary of someone who did no work directly for the public. In my year on the Chamber Board as the Chambers representative of the CVB Advisory Board Chair I do not recall Mrs. Glover ever attending a CVB board meeting. I do not recall Mrs. Glover ever being at the CVB building unless some event was taking place. Lisa Riddle is a homegrown girl. She grew up in Albany and graduated from Dougherty High School. Her husband is from here and teaches at Lee County Middle School and Darton College. Her child attends school at Twin Oaks Elementary and is involved in local gymnastics competitions on a regular basis.

Bo Henry put it best-- " this is what Albany does every time. The people who think they know best hire some consulting firm to make recommendations on hiring someone. They bring somebody from out of the State and that person starts firing local people who have spent their whole lives giving to this community. Local people who actually care what happens to their community, their neighbors and their family."

Mrs. Glover has none of that dedication and absolutely no reason to dedicate her life to this community. She is only here because she has something she is running from or this is a stepping stone for her. This decision the Board at the Chamber has allowed is the absolutely worst decision ever. As a 20 year member of this community, one of the largest financial investors in Downtown, having raised 4 children in this community, 2 having graduated and attended all 12 years in the public school system and 2 in the local private school system, I have lost all confidence in The Chamber of Commerce and I hereby publicly call for the separation of the CVB from the Chamber.

In 2006, Randall Travel Marketing conducted travel and tourism research in Albany and one of their top recommendations was for the CVB to be independent of the Chamber. The only CVB's still affiliated with Chambers are really small and cannot stand alone. There are very few left in the State of GA. Sara was working toward this goal before she got sick and had to retire. Now is the time to make this transition-- to protect the integrity of the hotel/motel tax dollars before further manipulation occurs and more hotel/motel tax dollars are used wrongfully.

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