When Bob McDowell was running for the position of Branson Alderman in 2007 he said, the leadership of city government had to “earn back the benefit of the doubt position” from the community. For what it is worth, based on what he personally has witnessed and been involved with this week and what he believes has gone on behind closed doors for over the last three years, an Ole Seagull would suggest that the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District Board (TCED) has to earn back the benefit of the doubt position from the stakeholders, the Branson Lakes Area CVB (CVB), paid staff and volunteers of the CVB, and the tax payers who authorized the tax.
The CVB has been doing the marketing for the Branson area for the TCED for the last three years under a contract that expires on Sep. 30. The contract has a provision that provides the TCED with the flexibility to renew the contract for up to another three years without going out for other bids (RFP).
A major agenda item for the TCED’s April 20 meeting was to “Discuss marketing RFP options for Fiscal 2010.” As part of that process, the TCED was presented with letters from two major stakeholder groups, “The League of Branson Theatre Owners and Show Producers” and the “Branson Lakes Area Lodging Association,” expressing their great satisfaction with the marketing efforts of the CVB and encouraging the TCED to extend the contract.
In addition, Dan Lennon, Vice President Marketing & Public Relations, made a presentation summing up the results of the CVB marketing efforts for the years 2006 and 2008. In spite of the challenges, all the following areas were up from 2005, the year before the CVB marketing program went into effect, Rate of First Time Visitors, City of Branson Sales Tax, City of Branson Tourism Tax, TCED Tourism Tax, Spending Per Party, Average Length of Stay, Overall Visitations, Family Visitations, and Overall Visitations. Amazingly, this was done, according to the report, at a Marketing Cost Per Visitor of $.92 as opposed to $2.41 for Las Vegas and $2.20 for Wisconsin Dells.
What was the reaction of the TCED regarding the CVB contract extension? Among other things, a comments by a TCED member indicating the CVB had packed the audience, another comment by a TCED member, blurted out to the Chairman during Lennon’s presentation, that they had to leave by 4:00 p.m., comments that things needed to be coordinated with the city of Branson and the passage of a motion that had something to do with the TCED having its financial oversight committee attend a future meeting.
Having sat there and not clearly understood the motion the Ole Seagull wrote the TCED asking for the specific wording of the motion they had approved. He received a reply from the TCED’s Chairman stating the wording would not be forthcoming because “It is possible when the board reads the minutes that the motion Jan lists is different from what board members believe they voted on. That is why the minutes and motions are not final till the Board approves them. Please, do not try to quote us till we have approved. We want to be accurate and follow procedure.”
To an Ole Seagull the TCED’s actions at the meeting and Akers reply represent the attitude of the TCED toward the CVB, the stakeholders, and the general public. An attitude that it is their game and they will play it the way they want, how they want, and when they want. To him it seems that they are failing to realize the potential impact of their actions, or inactions, on the marketing of Branson and its stakeholders, the people who have invested their lives and money in their businesses and all the others who rely directly or indirectly on those businesses for their income.
An Ole Seagull would suggest that if the TCED wants the benefit of the doubt they are going to have to earn it back. In his opinion, their actions this week have done nothing in that regard.
The recent allegations made against the city, regarding alleged flood plain mapping issues and Certificates of Occupancy for Building 1 through 6 at Branson Landing, by its acting Interim Director of Planning and Development at the Board of Alderman’s March 24 meeting, gave the current city administration a choice. They could have done what the Ole Seagull believes the very administration who created the problem would have done, handled it behind closed doors and out of public view as much as possible or they could handle the issue out in the open and in public view.
Almost within seconds of the allegations being made, Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley said they were very serious allegations, appreciated that they were brought forward, and pointed out that more information was needed. More importantly, however, she set the tenor for the type of public and open discussion that would follow. She suggested that the board and city administrator would “absolutely be completely transparent” regarding the issues and said, “At a future meeting, as soon as we have all the information, we will present it to you and the public.”
That public meeting was held less than a week later on March 30 and the issues were fully and completely discussed. Copies of the available documents were available for the public, each side gave a presentation after which the public had an opportunity to speak and ask questions as did the board.
It wasn’t either pretty or easy but, in terms of process, open government and public participation, it was a shining light and an example worthy of emulation. Rather than look for a way to close the meetings and hide the issues and their processes from the public they didn’t even blink as they kept the process open and as transparent as possible.
This week another government entity, the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District Board (TCED) will have an opportunity to decide what process they will use in deciding how millions of tax payer dollars will be spent in marketing Branson. Its current contract with the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), a division of the Branson Lakes/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, expires September 30.
The 2006 contract, which was fully negotiated behind closed doors with no participation from the general public, contains a provision stating “The District, in its sole discretion, may extend this contract, by notice to the Contractor sixty (60) days before contract termination, on a year to year basis for an additional (3) years as mutually agreed upon in writing with the Contractor.”
Leaving the perplexing problem of how a contract is extended “on a year to year basis” for “an additional (3) years” aside, if the contract is not automatically renewed a Request For Proposal (RFP) must be issued and a “new” contractor selected from those responding to the RFP. The CVB could submit a proposal and might very well be the one chosen, but that’s not the point.
It is not the decision on whether or not the TCED will give the marketing contract to the Branson CVB without putting out a new RFP or, if they do go out with an RFP, who is eventually chosen. It is simply the process of how they go about making the decision. Will they emulate the example the city of Branson set of open processes and public participation or will they look for ways to exclude the public from the process and operate behind closed doors as they did in 2006? An Ole Seagull’s prayer is that they will follow the city of Branson’s example.
To Christians, Christmas is both a commemoration and celebration of the fact that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” If however, that first Christmas was all there was, there would be little reason for anyone to believe in Jesus and the promise of eternal life would be lost to all. But that’s not all there was.
Jesus, as he lived and walked among men did so as a man. He faced the same temptations that all mankind faces, the same needs and desires, the same choices between good and evil, and had to deal with personal relationships and the other problems of simply being human. In the end it was His supreme faith in God, prayer, willingness to submit Himself to God’s will, and His love for us that led Him to the agony and humiliation of the cross.
As He anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” The “cup” was not the beatings, the crown of thorns, public humiliation and scorn, or His agonizing crucifixion on the cross. What was paining Jesus was the knowledge that He would be separated from His Father as He bore the burden of all mankind’s sins and sacrificed Himself for its redemption so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
If that was all there was, that Jesus died a horrible and painful death for that in which He professed belief, most of His followers would have considered Him a hero and, like thousands of heroes and martyrs before and after Him, He would have either been lost in the sands of time or, at best, become a memory in the pages of history. But, that’s not all there was.
At various times during His ministry Jesus had predicted His suffering and death and that He “would be raised up on the third day.” The same political and religious power and clout that lead to His suffering and death on the cross went through great lengths to make sure that Jesus stayed dead and would become a distant memory as soon as possible. They sealed His body in a tomb with a large rock and placed Roman soldiers to guard its entrance and, in the end, because they did, provided very proof that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
As Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early on the third day, she found the rock rolled away, the guards shaking in fear, an empty tomb, and an angel of God who said, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” In the following days His disciples and many others saw the living Lord, Christ, Jesus, the Son of God alive and interacted with Him.
Praise God, we have a risen Lord who lives and loved each and every one of us enough to pay for our sins, those of yesterday, today and tomorrow, by shedding His own body and blood on our behalf. All we have to do is accept His gift, for “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Recently the Branson area has been shocked by the accusations of the city of Branson being involved in fraud and cover-ups made by Ruth Denham, who was the city’s Interim Director of the city’s Planning and Development Department until a new Director was hired this week. What’s amazing to an Ole Seagull is Denham’s sudden epiphany and concern for the basements in Buildings 2 and 3.
After all, it’s not like they were new news or that she had just found out about them. In fact, according the very documentation Denham submitted on March 30, Sam Proffer, a former employee who worked in the Planning and Development Department while she was its assistant director, put her and all city officials on notice.
According to Denham’s information, on July 23, 2007 Proffer “ emailed Paul Link and Terry Dody stating in part, ‘It is my recommendation that the City not sign any CAF [Community Acknowledgement Form] for any reason until all of the buildings down at the Landing have met the requirements of our own floodplain ordinances and the NFIP regulation.’” “Proffer went on to say, “If FEMA does approve the application, and certain buildings are non-compliant are removed from the floodplain due to insufficient or inaccurate information, the City will have participated in misleading other regulatory agencies, lenders, tenants, etc.”
Now almost three years later Denham, who had the information since July 2007, steps forward accusing the city of fraud. In her March 30 memo she describes the situation as “a classic story of money, greed, and cover-up, all of which I fear as a citizen may land on the lap of the taxpayers of the City of Branson, including myself.”
The Ole Seagull knows it will be very unpopular to point out that Denham knew or certainly should have known about the situation involving the CAF since at least July of 2007. Yet, until recent days there has been no record of her making the appropriate city officials or FEMA aware of the fraud she is now allegedly so concerned about. As a citizen, the Ole Seagull doesn’t look at Denham as a courageous whistle blower standing up for what she believes in. What he sees is simply a government employee, charged with a responsibility that did not fulfill that responsibility.
In his opinion, Denham was the assistant director of the department and, if she believed Proffer was right, should have taken action on Proffer’s email. Yet, in spite of her position as “assistant director” of the department what does the record show, based on the information presented so far, nothing, absolutely nothing at all. Until now that is.
Whether one agrees with Proffer or not at least he had the courage to put his conviction in writing and take a stand. That’s more than can be said for the number two person in the department, the very person now accusing others of fraud and cover up, etc.
When a person points their finger at someone, they have at least three fingers pointing back at themselves. An Ole Seagull can only wonder if the process of selecting a new director of the Planning and Development Department had more to do with Denham’s recent accusations than her concern about what “may land on the lap of the taxpayer of the City of Branson.”