Friday, October 8, 2010

Current Watch: Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association: "Marianne Virgili, President and CEO"

Today’s post is brought by two former employees of the Glenwood Chamber.

“On the 27th day of September 2010, legally upheld confirmation was received that Marianne Virgili, President and CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, admitted in June 2009 to engaging in a pattern of deliberate and targeted destruction of a local business and family for a period of five months from February to June 2009.

Further revealed as legally upheld is Virgili’s leadership, encouragement and orchestration during this same span of time, of two other women to band together a pattern of their gossip and previously discredited allegations against this family and their business, spanning from Fall 2007 through 2008.

This company targeted was owned by the latest whistle blower on Virgili and the Chamber. This family a local family consisting of a woman and her four young adult children. This woman is the whistle on Marianne Virgili that began coming forward aprx. New Year’s day of 2009.

“smalltown7's unconditional support, thoughts and prayers go out to this family as they struggle to not only gather their lives in the face of tragedy but continue to seek justice for their own and their responsibilities.”


Today, smalltown7 carries on with a loud whistle on the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association by asking the following:

“What have we seen in changes at the City of Glenwood Springs since February 4th, 2010 when the minutes at the end of this post were the high point of that City Council meeting?”

Those minutes make for an interesting read given what we now have lived through in the months since.

smalltown7 has decided to post them again at the end of this post.

First, our comments on the current status of the 2011 Tourism marketing plan:
• In our view, the information on tourism does not pass litmus. A reminder that can be verified below in the 2/4 minutes that there is strong discontent with the lack of results we have seen out of tourism promotion since 2007. It is highly debatable whether or not effective use of marketing funds has taken place. According to council packet, this budget and plan has now been through one round of the new tourism board, where a good deal of the initial presentation was scuttled and funds moved around to be more effective. Great move and news and we thank our new board. We hope that you will make many more changes as the months unfold. We have high confidence in you.

• It’s noted again how little real information there is in these outputs from the current marketing vendor in the Chamber. There is no data. No meat, no substance. It is repeated and flashy power point presentations that we have seen time and time again. There are a few good events coming in and we are glad for that. It is not enough and certainly not an effective use of funds. We call on our new board to not be passive. Be pro-active. If necessary, meet more often and possibly without the marketing vendor attending. That has always been and remains a huge conflict of interest. The vendor on board should have no access to the decision making for the contract and contract execution of disbursing funds, in any way.

Let’s talk now about what changes we have seen since the 2/4/10 minutes below:

• From that February meeting through September 2010, conflict after conflict with the Chamber and tourism fund.
• the grant fund was run dry
• the budget overspent
• a historic new tourism oversight and promotion board put into place with the old disbanded
• City Council put fully in charge of board selections and disbursements of funds
• controls placed on tourism entities for term limits and input
• an empowered Council that no longer just sits and takes at face value what it is told by the Chamber.
• a region with a concentrated focus on our community, unfortunately now facing at least a year more of global media recognition from the entire range of what has been done to a local family.

• We have seen the allowance of biased and censored coverage in the local media.
• We have seen such outcry from the community over that bias that our local newspaper is now seeking new editorial management with previous management taking a “mental” leave of absence.

• We have seen the resignation of Kate Collins from the Chamber with no equal caliber of replacement.

• We have seen a community grow to full awareness and empowerment of themselves against an issue of lack of oversight on tourism that has existed yet swept under a rug for close to two decades.

• We have seen our Chamber Board of Directors still keep the same state of mind on the surface, as Mr. Sanderson has below in the 2/4 minutes.

• We have seen a community support by either apathy or salivating over gossip and scandal; our city officials sitting back with public statements of their full support of all actions within the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

smalltown7 keeps talking.


From City Council meeting of 2/4/10:
“ITEM NO. 8 Discussion and/or Action Regarding Tourism Promotion Contract.
Mayor Christensen said Council needs to decide if, for 2011, this will continue as a sole source, non-competitive contract or if an RFP is needed. This is a large amount of public money and there needs to be a public discussion as to how it is allocated. The Chamber needs to know as soon as possible which way the City will go.
Kate Collins, Vice-President of Tourism Marketing for the Glenwood Springs Chamber appeared with Steve Beckley of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, incoming Chairman of the Tourism Board, and Bill Sanderson from Alpine Bank, past Chairman of the Glenwood Chamber and current Boardmember. She said she would like Council to continue the contract with the Glenwood Springs Chamber. The City has been partners with the Chamber in the stewardship of the Tourism Funds and the tourism business which is the City’s largest economic driver. The Glenwood Springs Chamber is built on 22 years of managing this fund and is built on the strategies and infrastructure they developed. The last year has been difficult, but it has been less bad for Glenwood Springs than for other Colorado destinations due to having a great brand and product but also to the consistency of their marketing efforts. Their website sees 400,000 to 500,000 visitors per year with new visitors and longer visits. Their Central Reservations has one stop shopping and a conversion mechanism for marketing efforts. They have a leads database with 30,000 loyal visitors and prospects. Their PR person has a great reputation and rapport with travel writers and the employees are committed and talented. The Chamber knows the target market and has a continued theme that allows their message to evolve. She encouraged Council to view which was launched last week and includes three winter promotions: ski-swim-stay, ski-swim-spa and ski-swim-play. To coincide with Glenwood’s 125th Birthday, there are coupons to area attractions and restaurants for use on your 2010 birthday. There will soon be 220 new lodging rooms so they will need to work hard to try to fill occupancy over 12 months and now would be a risky time to put this out to bid. The City and the Chamber have grown as partners to make Glenwood a model mountain community. An RFP is inconsistent with the local preference policy. There are only 2 staff members that manage this contract and dealing with an RFP would take them from their core work. The Chamber operates the Visitor Information Center which saw 65,000 visitors in 2009. It takes training, commitment and patience to respond to visitors’ needs which then allows them to spend more money. The Chamber helps run events and they consider themselves the stewards of the brand. They would like to continue their contract and this partnership in 2011 and 2012.
Bill Sanderson, Alpine Bank Branch President and Chamber Boardmember, stated when he joined the Chamber 5 years ago there were discussions of putting this contract out for bid and allegations of misappropriation of funds. The Chamber and the Tourism Board came through with flying colors. They have diversified the Tourism Board by adding non-tourism members and have proven that keeping administration of the funds in-house has been very effective. He pledged his support to keep things as they have been.
Steve Beckley mentioned that the Tourism Board works closely with Council and has tried to accommodate their suggestions. He is excited about the things being done and encouraged Council to keep the 2011 and 2012 contracts with the Chamber.
Larry Emery said this has been an ongoing issue for many years. The Chamber does its best to promote Glenwood Springs but the issue is that $750,000 of public money is spent annually. How do you justify spending it on something that hasn’t been bid or seeing what is available? This is probably the largest budget item Council has control over and it is awarded to the Chamber every year. He said he takes exception with the Chamber saying they don’t have time for an RFP. They do an annual plan on how the $750,000 will be spent and probably have the facts and figures in place. These funds from the Glenwood Springs’ taxpayers are to be used to promote the City and it is left to Council’s discretion as to how best to spend the money. He received the audit results 5 years ago. This audit was not a forensic audit, just an analysis of the figures to make sure they added up.
Bob Campbell said he has worked a lot with Chamber staff. They are hard working, conscience and knowledgeable. He said he was impressed with their understanding of what works best for Glenwood Springs.
Councilor Steckler said he is the Council representative to the Tourism Board, knows what the Chamber does and is happy with their work. It’s a good idea to look at this from an RFP prospective, but there is a lot of learned knowledge and continuity. The Chamber knows what works and what doesn’t. From what he understands of the business there would be some risks of going with an outside entity. He said he doesn’t think it would be difficult for the Chamber to put together an RFP, but it would be difficult for an outside firm to compete. He said he is happy with how the money is spent, but would like broader input from the community, a more regional approach. He said he is happy with the status quo.
Councilor Bershenyi said he is conflicted because it is Council’s responsibility to do the best thing with the public’s money and they should be doing this through a more open process. The Chamber has done a wonderful job and has a quality product.
Councilor Kaup echoed the comments that this is not about performance of the contract. The Chamber’s main strength is an understanding of the product and the market to which Glenwood appeals. She said she is happy with the changes made to the Tourism Board. Council has a responsibility to make sure this money is spent prudently. She would like someone to analyze the impacts, benefits and costs of changing the structure of this contract before sending this to a RFP.
Councilor Sturges said everyone has reviewed the history, the Chamber product and the marketing. He said the Chamber’s marking work is high quality and consistent with its message. This is no longer just about the money. The Visitor Center is one of the best, from the location to the friendliness. He said someone from outside the area could not manage that responsibility so it should be separate from the RFP. The Chamber’s marketing plans have been professional and well documented. Staff raised a question about oversight and administration so, if Council decides to go through with it, he would like staff to come back with a proposed RFP. He wants to get the best marketing program that will bring in the best return.
Councilor McKinney reiterated that Council is the steward of the public money and it is a disservice if the money isn’t spent in an open and just manner. If it goes to bid it will likely go to the Chamber. He said most of the information should be in place for the Chamber to put together a bid and the money should stay local. He asked if this is the way it has always been done.
Mayor Christensen explained that it has been done like this for the last 22 years and prior to that it was administered by the City and bid out as an advertising contract. The amounts were much smaller.
Councilor McKinney said he is leaning toward putting it out for bid.
Councilor Arensman said he has served as Council liaison to the Chamber for the last 2 years and respects the people on the Chamber Board and all the volunteer efforts. They are doing a good job with the City’s tourism marketing and they understand the local attractions and appeal. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. The City is getting good value for the money. The Tourism Board has improved its accountability, broadened the representation, and implemented conflict of interest waivers. They have allowed regional golf course promotions and that’s the type of regional marketing that needs done. If this goes out to bid front range companies could under-bid because they don’t have to pay the operating costs of living here and the City is trying to keep funds local. He said he supports not changing at this time, but would like more scrutiny. What does the $200,000 in overhead pay? This was an almost $800,000 budget which has shrunk to $600,000.
Mayor Christensen said Council would negligent to spend this amount of money without seeing what is available. If this was done with any other entity there would be public furor. The City has given the Chamber $2.8 million over the last 4 years to market Glenwood Springs. Council took an oath and is responsible to see what the alternatives are no matter how much they like the people here. The Tourism Board should be looking at all the regions’ resources and look at Glenwood as a gateway to them. Glenwood’s Chamber is paid to host Ride the Rockies, but none of the other western slope municipalities do that. The Chamber is paid to market Glenwood, but they can’t do an RFP because it will take time from marketing. That is unethical. There are things that need tightened up. The Chamber is paid $22,800 for rent under the contract, but the County provides the facility for free. He said he hopes an RFP would provide someone local, but if they continue with a sole-source and no bid contract, the oversight needs improved. The Tourism Board should not be appointed by the Chamber. The Chamber promotes Glenwood with a water theme yet pays dues to and supports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which is trying to dry up the West. Other options must be explored.
Councilor Steckler said he agreed that maybe a different structure should be explored, but continuity is needed with a marketing entity. This wouldn’t be easy to bid, but an RFP could be explored. How costs are allocated through the Tourism Fund needs examined and an external auditing procedure is warranted. He said he is in favor of a more regional approach but likes the basic execution of the contract. This is public money so it shouldn’t be contentious and justifying how it is spent should be accepted as a matter of course.
Mayor Christensen explained that he personally has a problem when the Tourism Board wants to put the 20% into advertising. It is the one thing the community receives and it is spent wisely. Infrastructure needs built to enhance the community. The Tourism Board didn’t want to partner for downtown Christmas lights or on a better bus service.
Councilor Kaup said there are some valid questions with issues over the years, but will an RFP address them? She said there are advantages to having the contract local and involving community cooperation in marketing Glenwood Springs. If things need fixed, then look at the best way to address them.
Councilor Bershenyi reiterated that no one is denigrating the Chamber’s product, but it is Council’s fiduciary responsibility to the community to oversee these funds. The Chamber tonight has asked for the 2011 and 2012 contracts which are $l.4 million and he is unwilling to give blanket approval to an expenditure of that amount without a formal process.
Councilor Sturges said Council is executing their responsibility as prior Councils have. There are legitimate questions and he would like to better understand the issues of administration and oversight. It’s not as simple as requiring an RFP. There should be discussion with staff regarding the type of oversight and an RFP, review the proposal and then make a decision as to an RFP. If it is decided an RFP is needed, he is sure the Chamber will make a good argument that they can deliver what the City wants.
Councilor Arensman agreed that it is premature to go to an RFP now. If it goes to bid, a different form of governance will be needed and the ramifications need thought through. He said he would like to discuss the issues brought up tonight.
Mayor Christensen said the Chamber needs to know they will have the 2011 contract, then have the discussion sometime during this year.
Jeff Hecksel said the discussion tonight is not an approval of a contract, just a discussion and decision about issuing an RFP. This is a significant process with involving overlap and time to transition.
Councilor Kaup said if Council seriously considers going for an RFP, questions need to be answered about the implications, what type of changes would need to be made to administration and structure, etc.
Mayor Christensen said those are structural issues.
Councilor Steckler said an RFP is not simple. How is the RFP sculpted? What do you do with the infrastructure already in place? What about the marketing leads?
Jeff Hecksel said, from his perspective, those are losses that will have to be paid again when/if providers are changed. The investment to the website is gone and would have to be redone. The only way to get those costs is to go through an RFP.
Mayor Christensen said those are advantages to the current vendor and he is fine with that.
Councilor Bershenyi said those are work products produced using public funds so it should be the property of the City of Glenwood Springs.
Mayor Christensen and Jeff Hecksel disagreed.
Councilor McKinney suggested extending the contract for a year and having a worksession before June.
Councilor Sturges pointed out that renewing or continuing a contract is not the issue tonight. He asked if there was a date by which they need to decide who receives the contract.
Jeff Hecksel replied, it feeds into the budget and it would be preferable to have more time to minimize the disruption. Changing providers, especially when they involve the items in the memorandum, will cause disruption because development lead time is significant. He said he sees this as a political issue for Council and has no recommendations.
Councilor Sturges said there in an issue as to how the contract is administered and another one of oversight. He said Council should have a worksession to discuss what they want under an RFP.
Councilor McKinney said if this is the same conversation that’s been happening for 22 years. The right thing to do is put it out to bid because of Council’s obligation as public servants and nothing will change until that is done.
Councilor Steckler said if you lose 6 months marketing getting a new vendor up to speed it is a disservice to the community. It isn’t a tangible service.
Councilor Kaup said the decision should be how best to serve the City and it is not best served to lose marketing time in a down economy.
Mayor Christensen said it is on the agenda tonight because there is almost a year lead time. If there is ever going to be a change, it needs to be planned well in advance.
Councilor Bershenyi moved, seconded by Councilor Kaup, to direct staff to schedule a worksession to examine the ramifications of an RFP.
Councilor Steckler said he would like it amended to expand the scope to include structural issues with the existing approach.
Mayor Christensen said, in that case, the RFP would be for the 2012 contract.
Councilor Steckler asked if they were going ahead with the status quo for 2011.
Councilor Arensman answered, it doesn’t have to be status quo. There is the opportunity to interact with the Chamber and the Tourism Board during the entire next year.
Mayor Christensen said that’s a good thing then everybody can work through the issues and it can be a component of what happens in 2012.
Councilor Bershenyi amended his motion and Councilor Kaup amended her second to schedule a worksession to discuss the ramifications of an RFP for the 2012 contract and some of the structural and/or policy concerns with the current situation.
Council registered their votes on the electronic lighting system. The motion passed unanimously.”

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