Our opinion: It didn’t have to be this way

Last week, we bemoaned the contretemps over the county’s designation of a tourism promotion agency and the bed tax funding attached to it and called on all of the parties involved to exit the scorched earth of the debate and find a way forward.

But, we also noted that things didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, the situation is a perfect of example of what can happen when major decisions and policy shifts are decided outside of earshot of the public.

In this case, by their own admission, the decision to make a significant change in with whom the county entrusts its tourism promotion and the tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for that mission was born early in 2012, shortly after Stephen Vanco joined the board of commissioners.

It is also clear in recent statements by both board members of the Warren County Visitors Bureau and county commissioners that between that time and Sept. 25 of this year there were several meetings and other communications between the two bodies on the issue, all of which were sub rosa.

So, when on Sept. 25 the commissioners voted to take the TPA designation away from the WCVB and give it and the bed tax money to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, it may not have really been a surprise to the Visitors Bureau, but it was a surprise to the great majority of Warren County residents. At the time, the stated reason by the commissioners was that they were seeking an economy of effort, “an efficient use of the monies that are coming out of the hotel bed tax,” according to Commissioner John Eggleston.

In the ensuing very public and increasingly angry debate, the commissioners accused the WCVB of being not only ineffective, but irresponsible. The Visitors Bureau fired back, accusing the commissioners of hijacking the bed tax funds for a perceived good old boy network.

Meanwhile, the county’s municipalities, who were given a referendum voice in the issue, were faced with little information and little time in which to choose a “winner.” Some, in fact, preferred to make no choice at all, effectively a pocket veto of the proposed change based on the wording of the commissioner’s proposal.

Like we said, it didn’t have to be this way.

It is clear that the commissioners have, and have had for some time, some significant problems with the way the bed tax money was used and accounted for by the WCVB. Perhaps they were trying to save the Visitors Bureau embarrassment by keeping negotiations private, but they did so at their own peril.

Things might have been much different if, say, last January they would have announced at a public meeting that they were concerned about certain aspects of the WCVB’s operation, outlined those concerns, and given the agency a deadline to correct them, one of two things could have occured. The agency would have met the deadline, satisfied the concerns and gone about its business, or told the commissioners to butt out. In other words, the problems would have been solved, or the public – and those municipalities – would have had some perspective to draw upon.