Who runs travel and tourism? | City & County
Should a former volunteer board member be eligible for a lucrative contract the year after leaving?
This question was at the center of a heated meeting of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board on Thursday, when elected officials and prominent business people debated the ethics, optics and process of awarding a contract. $150,000 to $170,000 website design contract to former board member Brian Modena.
Current board member Joe Madera, who was not on the selection committee, said there were only a few hours left to review the decision matrix up for vote. He was concerned that it didn’t look good for the board to award the money to former board member Modena.
The website redesign had a budget of $400,000, but the Travel and Tourism Board’s marketing committee said the winner – local Modena production company TMBR – would submit a competitive bid of around $150. $000 to $170,000. This money would be for content creation, building and maintaining the site.
State Senator Mike Gierau, County Commissioner Mark Barron, Planning Commissioner Alex Muromcew and hotelier Steve Meadows were in the audience and spoke against the motion, elaborating on Madera’s feelings and asking for more time. to review the process.
“Does that mean I think something is wrong?” Gierau asked. “No, not necessarily, but that’s the optics.”
Meadows said if the potential for conflict of interest was not in the decision matrix, the matrix was flawed.
“Please, I’m not accusing anyone of anything,” Meadows said, but “there are reasons why there’s a line of revolving doors in [Washington] DC You don’t go out and become a lobbyist the next day.
Legally, nothing out of the ordinary happened, Deputy Chief County Attorney Keith Gingery said. Gingery advises the Travel and Tourism Board, which is made up of all volunteers.
“There is no law in Wyoming that says you can’t award a contract for goods or services to someone who has served on a board of directors,” Gingery told News&Guide. “Whether or not it’s bad optics is the decision of the board.”
Potential award recipient Modena said the entire RFP process was the same as he’s seen doing website redesigns for “managed tourism” in mountain towns like Aspen, Colorado, Truckee, California and Park City, Utah.
When asked directly if he left the board to pursue the contract, TMBR’s Brian Modena replied “unequivocally no”.
He had reached his term limit when he left last June. (Disclaimer: Modena also created the community newsfeed Buckrail, which News&Guide’s parent company, Teton Media Works, bought from it in 2020.)
Moving the vote and giving everyone more time to review the contract, as proposed by members of the public and board member Mary Bess, proved complicated.
Brian Gallagher, a board member for six years, wanted to make the decision quickly, at a special meeting instead of the next regular meeting scheduled for a month later.
This would allow him to vote on the item before having to leave after two full three-year terms.
“I would like to vote because I’ve spent hours and hours and hours evaluating these proposals, and I believe we already have the right one,” Gallagher told the room.
Board member Crista Valentino said if she was Gallagher she would feel the same way.
The Travel and Tourism Office has two open seats. At a special meeting earlier, Valentino said, the two new board members may not yet be chosen from 13 applicants.
The motion to discuss at a special meeting failed, but the mere idea of calling a special meeting to expedite the vote frustrated audience members.
Gierau said seeing the board trying to move the date forward was a “red flag…when a board member says, ‘I have to make this decision, I have to be there’…You have to be able to defend those motions.
“Who is this advice for? Barron asked the audience rhetorically.
“The problem isn’t so much who gets it,” Barron said, “but that there hasn’t been a public process. You’re spending a lot of public money without any transparency.
But that didn’t seem to satisfy Barron’s question. Barron later commented that the process seemed to serve outgoing board member Gallagher rather than the public and told the board “it’s not your job”.
Board members discussed whether the board should have permanent members to make the decision and a mechanism to limit the ability of former board members to apply for contracts.
But those turned out to be decisions for another time.
It took four motions for the board to agree to schedule the decision for the next regular meeting, when Gallagher won’t be there. Gallagher was the only one to vote against the motion.
Gierau commented on the last motion that “nobody I’ve heard from today, and certainly not me, is saying that TMBR is not [right] for this contract. He just wanted the public to have time to come to the same conclusion as the council.
Barron summed up his views as wanting to see the council follow the “letter of the law” on how tax money from the accommodation fund should be distributed.
The Travel and Tourism Board is funded by the 2% tax on lodging bills in Teton County. It allocates 60% of the funds collected, with the municipality and the department managing the remaining 40%. Other counties must spend 90% of their lodging tax revenue on promotion and only 10% goes to local government.
But the politicians’ interaction with the board rubbed Gallagher and Modena the wrong way.
“When politicians complain about processes, it usually means they just don’t like the outcome,” Gallagher said at the meeting.
Gierau said being called in to question the process was another “red flag”.
“I think Shakespeare said it best,” Gierau later told News&Guide. “Seems to me you’re protesting too much.”
Meadows, Muromcew and especially Gierau and Barron’s repeated interventions at Thursday’s meeting, and in prior decisions regarding the sustainable destination’s management plan, appeared to be its own conflict of interest, Gallagher and Modena told News&Guide. .
They said this explosion of a website contract was just one example of a repeated pattern of elected officials and Chamber of Commerce members trying to promote tourism as much as possible.
The comments from those politicians reminded Gallagher of when the travel and tourism board hired its chief executive in the fall of 2021.
Gierau and Barron “started intervening, bullying and pretending the process was poor,” Gallagher said, “because they wanted us to hire the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce to monitor this pool of public funds.”
Anna Olson, CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
In interviews after the reunion, the beards continued.
“It should be noted that Mark Barron has a monopoly on commercial laundry in this valley. The more tourists there are in this valley, the more money Mark Barron makes,” Gallagher said. “Same thing with Mike Gierau. He has the catering monopoly at the Jackson Hole airport.
When asked to respond to that comment, Gierau said: “That’s a dirty fucking lie… If they looked into it, I’m not even the majority owner, the company they’re talking about. “
Gierau and Barron said their only interest was to keep council business public.
Without transparency, Barron said, someone could introduce legislation to reduce the unusually high amount of lodging taxes that benefit Teton County’s public sector.
Interviewed, all agreed that promoting tourism at all costs was a bad idea.
Both Gallagher and Modena pointed to recent results from a survey of residents’ sentiments towards tourism, which found that most of the 4,777 respondents said they thought “the development of tourism is too quickly (85%), feel unheard (79%) and support the need for planning and control (90%)”, with 85% of respondents least satisfied with summer tourism .
Mark Barron said he “[hasn’t] I knew someone in 10 or 15 years who felt we needed more summer activities.
But Modena was not convinced.
“There are business people and politicians working hard to keep tourism accelerating,” he said.
This version has been updated to reflect an accurate final quote. — Ed.