The number one question the Ole Seagull has been asked all week is, “What do you think about the bombshell allegations that Ruth Denham, the interim director of Planning and Development for the city of Branson, has alleged about the city of Branson? Allegations relating to it’s involvement with potential fraud and other issues concerning the city’s involvement with the Branson Landing flood plain Map revisions, information submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA,) and the issuing of final Certificates of Occupancy (CO) for certain buildings at Branson Landing?”
His answer is reminiscent of an old Wendy’s ad, “Where’s the beef?”
In her March 24 memo to the Mayor, city administrator, and board of aldermen, Denham states she has been working for the city for thirteen years, is currently employed as the interim director of Planning and Development for the city of Branson and prior to that time had worked as the Assistant Director of Planning and Development. Said another way, she has been either the number one or two position in the city’s Planning and Development Department during most, if not all the time the issues she alleges have been going on.
The memo goes to state, “It has been documented from the very beginning of the building plan review of the Branson Landing project that buildings 1-6 do not meet and most likely were never going to meet either the Branson Municipal Code (BMC) or NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) requirements.” The first thought that comes to an Ole Seagull’s mind is how much more potentially valuable to the city and its citizens it would have been if she had taken the action she is now taking back during the “building plan review of the Branson Landing Project” so the issues could have been addressed prior to building the Landing.
Her memo then goes on to say, “”Regardless, certain members of city government have chosen to cover up this fact from FEMA and our citizens,” alleges lying to the public, and goes on to say, “I as an employee am being pressured to go along and be part of what I believe to be illegalities, and will not do so.” Interestingly, the memo is devoid of the names of any “member of city government” that chose to cover up the flood plain issues she points out, is lying, or has allegedly pressured her “to go along and be part of what” she believes are illegal acts.
In the Sep. 5, 2007 edition of this paper in an article entitled, “Branson Landing flood plan map revisions not a life safety issue,” the Ole Seagull reported on the very public process that was taking place as HCW Development Company, LLC, was submitting a “Letter of Map Revision (LOMR),” to FEMA requesting a revision of the 100 year flood plain map for the area encompassing the Branson Landing project and other relevant information. News accounts since Denham’s allegations indicate that FEMA approved the LOMR in Feb. 2008 and the very buildings she is talking about are now out of the flood plain. That article is available on line at www.BransonCourier.Com by typing the term “LOMR” in the “Search Box” in the upper right hand corner.
Last week’s Letter to the Editor entitled, “Branson Tourism Board chooses to spend millions in secret,” talked about the use of exceptions to Missouri’s Sunshine Law by the “Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District Board (Board)” as it goes through the process of using the millions of dollars in taxpayer funds it received for the marketing of the District. Normally, like last week’s letter which is available on line at www.TheOleSeagull.Com, the Ole Seagull uses a lot of facts and figures to back up his opinions, but this week, he’s going to go with his heart and gut.
A number of people have commented about the statement, “Why all the secrecy back in 2006? No one knows because it was all done behind closed doors with the public excluded, but were an Ole Seagull asked he’d opine, ‘They wanted to make sure the ‘right’ organization got the contract.’” In the Ole Seagull’s opinion he believes the “Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB)” was awarded the multiyear multimillion dollar contract as much for nonmarketing reasons as for marketing reasons and, strangely perhaps for some, he has no problem with that result.
Were the Ole Seagull sitting on the Board at that time, based on what he knew, he would have voted for the CVB to get the contract. His vote would have been based on his belief that the “stake holders” of Branson, those investing their lives, blood, effort, and money in making Branson what it is, should be the ones controlling the marketing of Branson. In addition, at that time the CVB was a couple of years into the new marketing program that had been initiated as a result of a city sponsored Branding Study and, in the opinion of an Ole Seagull, with the limited marketing funds that were available was doing a great job.
The thing he would not have done however, is stand still for the Board conducting most of the original selection process under an exception to the Sunshine Law with minimal public participation. The process itself continued and perpetrated a perception about the “Chamber” and the Board that could have been substantially mitigated had the Board elected to conduct their business in an open and public manner.
The CVB marketing contract is up this year, but there is a provision that permits the automatic renewal of the contract for another three years without the Board going through the RFP Process or even looking at other potential firms or organizations to do Branson’s marketing. For what it’s worth, were the Ole Seagull sitting on the Board he would recommend that RFP’s go out so that the community could evaluate other ideas out there that might result in Branson being marketed more effectively, but most of all, he would recommend that the process and all discussions be conducted in an open and public manner.
He truly believes that at the end of the day the process would more than likely result in the contract being awarded to the CVB. The “more than likely” comes into play because, in an Ole Seagulls opinion, it should take one WOW of a presentation, i.e. getting the same results for a lot less money or “this idea is so great it will bring millions more to Branson than with what we are currently doing,” to give the marketing contract to anyone else other than the CVB.
In his heart of hearts he just doesn’t believe the WOWs out there. Even with its imperfections, the current economy, floods, gas prices, and whatever else has come Branson’s way, Branson’s CVB marketing program has done an outstanding job of marketing Branson during some of the worst economic times most have seen in their lifetimes.
It’s amazing, the Ole Seagull never thought he would see a government entity that operated more in secret than the city of Branson administration that was in place prior to the 2007 elections, but he was wrong. The way the Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District Board (Board) decides to spend millions of dollars in public funds, comparatively speaking, makes that old administration appear like it was conducting its business publically on the “Wheel of Fortune.”
Missouri’s Sunshine Law is very specific stating “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.” Even where the law authorizes exceptions to that policy it states, “Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.”
Oh, it gets even more specific. The Sunshine Law goes on to state, “Nothing in sections 610.010 to 610.028 shall be construed as to require a public governmental body to hold a closed meeting, record or vote to discuss or act upon any matter.”
A favorite move for the TCED Board is the standard alleged use of two exceptions to the Sunshine Law. The first is Subsection 610.021(1) relating to “Legal actions, causes of action or litigation involving a public governmental body and any confidential or privileged communications between a public governmental body or its representatives and its attorneys.” The second is Subsection 610.021(12) relating to “Sealed bids and related documents, until the bids are opened; and sealed proposals and related documents or any documents related to a negotiated contract until a contract is executed, or all proposals are rejected.”
When one considers the way the TCED Board awarded the initial contract to the “Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, a division of the Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce” in October of 2006, it makes a mockery out of the intent of the Sunshine Law. The TCED Board invoked the provisions of 610.021(12) to keep the public out of the process until they made their decision and announced it.
No member of the public knew who had made what type of presentation or when while competing for the millions of dollars to market Branson. Even under the old Branson administration the process was very public including public presentations by each entity interested in doing the marketing for the city. Why all the secrecy back in 2006? No one knows because it was all done behind closed doors with the public excluded, but were an Ole Seagull asked he’d opine, “They wanted to make sure the “right” organization got the contract.”
That contract expires Sep. 31 this year. Any bets on who is going to get the new contract or if the TCED Board will have enough respect for the tax-paying public to honor the intent of the Sunshine Law?
The Ole Seagull has often said that he truly doesn’t know the exact cause for the financial situation the country is in. That being the case he would be more inclined to find the root cause than try to fix a problem that had not been defined. Part of his rationale would be not only can you not fix something that has not been identified, but you might make the problem worse.
This simple video by Glen Beck indicates that we are devaluing the value of our money at a rate that is greater than at any time in our history. In the opinion of an Ole Seagull, in the final analysis that could end up being a much bigger problem than whatever the current situation, all this money is being printed to solve, proves out to be.
On April 7, Taney County voters will have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to authorize up to a quarter of a cent additional retail sales tax to build a road, known as the East West Corridor (EWC). According to the ballot language the ECW will run from near the intersection of East Highway 76 and J Highway to U.S Highway 65 at the Hollister interchange just south of Branson. One could get the impression that if the voters approve the tax that the whole amount would go towards financing the EWC and that the EWC will provide a “straight” connection with the interchange, but, in terms of practical reality, is that the case?
In following all the news reports on the EWC the Ole Seagull has not noticed any substantive comment on the effect of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on the financing of the EWC. In Branson alone won’t the TIF will eat up one half of the taxes collected at Branson Landing and Branson Hills, including Wal-Mart, Target etc?
If that is the case, only $.50 of every dollar collected at either Branson Landing or Branson Hills will go to pay for the EWC and the other $.50 of it will go to pay off Branson’s TIFs. The Ole Seagull hasn’t read anything about the potential impact of Hollister’s TIF’s on the project. Does that mean there isn’t any?
Doesn’t the “straight line” of the EWC kind of turn into a “zig zag” at its eastern end at the intersection of Birch? Won’t there be some sort of traffic control signal put in at that point? Isn’t there a little zig to another traffic signal at Industrial and the U.S. Highway 65 and a “zag” to another traffic signal actually controlling entry and exiting from U.S. Highway 65? Has any recognized government study been conducted on how the “zigzag” could impact traffic flow?
Is there any recognized government study establishing the need for the EWC that takes into consideration the improved levels of service for Highway 76 traffic that will result when the new Lake Taneycomo Bridge project is completed? Does Taney County have a prioritized list of infrastructure projects, transportation, bridges, water, sewer etc.? If so where is the EWC on that list? Is it a “need” or a “want?”
The last two questions are perhaps the most important and it is addressed to each of the Taney County Commissioners personally and individually, “In view of the current economic situation and its potential impact on the revenues of Taney County, do you believe that the building of the EWC, at this time, is the best use of limited tax payer resources?” The second is, “If the voters vote for the EWC will you guarantee that no Taney County real property taxes will be assessed against Taney County residents until the EWC is paid off?
After a decade and hundreds of columns, on March 1, and perhaps not soon enough for some, the last column of the Ole Seagull, entitled “An Ole Seagull’s last column is but a “Letter to the Editor,”’ was published in the Branson Daily Independent. Although, as a citizen of Branson, Missouri, “the live music show capital of the world,” he will attempt to continue to express his opinions on local affairs, those opinions will be expressed in “Letters to the Editor” and, on line, at “TheOleSeagull.com.”
Excerpts from the column:
He could write a lot of words about why, but in the final analysis it is simply because he thinks it is the right thing to do in terms of his current personal and business situation. Does that mean he will stop expressing his opinion?
For the opportunity, encouragement and help he has received over the years an Ole Seagull is eternally grateful and thankful. In terms of what he has written and how he has written it he will rely on the words Abraham Lincoln who said, “If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
Click here for entire column.