Should taxpayers be worried about concerns being voiced about the Cuba Tourism Commission? That remains to be seen, but one thing is clear—the Cuba City Council needs to do a much better job in overseeing the operation of the commission!
Connie Echols, owner of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel and former member of the commission, got the Cuba City Council’s attention recently. She addressed the council last week and has made a request for six years of Tourism Commission records.
While she was still on the commission, she sent a lengthy letter to aldermen late last year, highlighting numerous concerns about how the Tourism Commission was conducting business, saying she would not be able to remain on the commission if things were not going to change. Then in January, the commission accepted her resignation as a result of that letter, even though it was somewhat unclear if the letter was actually intended to be an official notification that Echols was resigning.
Either way, Echols has some legitimate concerns about the Tourism Commission the city council should be taking seriously.
According to state statute (RSMo. 67.1354), the Tourism Commission must consist of five members appointed by the city council. Of those members, one must be a member of the hotel and motel industry, two shall be active in the tourism industry, and the remaining two must be members of “local general business interests” in the city. Also, one member of the city council is supposed to serve as the commission’s liaison in a nonvoting capacity. Members can be residents of the city or the county. Terms are for three years and no member of the commission can serve more than two consecutive terms.
Echols was the lone member of the commission from the hotel and motel industry. Other members of the board include President Kim Roedemeier, Don Fuchs, Faye Howard, and Jimmy West. Only West, who owns Frisco’s restaurant, could be considered “active in the tourism” industry. One could argue, too, that only Fuchs is a member with “local general business interests” as he operates a dental business. Roedemeier is the city collector and Howard is retired.
It certainly appears the makeup of the Tourism Commission needs to be reworked to be in line with state law, but what should be most concerning for city taxpayers is the fact that no one on the city council has been serving as the commission’s liaison, despite that being a requirement. The council is ultimately responsible for overseeing the operation of the Tourism Commission, from approving its members and budget to having one of its members attend meetings, and that oversight has been severely lacking.
It’s been clear at city council meetings that no one on the council seems to know what has been going on with the Tourism Commission. That has to change! Someone on the council has to attend commission meetings and give regular reports on what the commission is doing to the council during its public meetings.
Routinely, the council receives updates from the police chief, head of public works, and various committees. The same thing must also happen for the Tourism Commission.
Other things the council must consider—if taxpayers are to be assured their tourism tax money is being spent properly—are some perceived conflicts of interest with the commission and its budget. Should the city collector be serving on the Tourism Commission since she is responsible for collecting its revenue? Should tourism tax money be spent paying workers at the Crawford County Historical Society Museum, especially since Roedemeier’s mother is actively involved at the museum? And, are elected officials family members being paid with tourism tax dollars to work at the Visitors Center? All are concerns voiced by Echols and they should be addressed.
That does not mean anything that has been done or is being is illegal. When it comes to spending taxpayers’ money, however, every effort must be made to not only avoid conflicts of interest, but also avoid even the appearance of improprieties.
Certainly, there will be disagreements on how tax money is spent, meetings are conducted, and more. But the council must provide more oversight, not only because state law requires it, but because the public demands it.
It’s time to take a good, hard look at Cuba’s Tourism Commission and make sure it is operating as it is supposed to be. The council must make sure current members serving on the commission are meeting the requirements for membership, that no members of the commission are currently serving more than two consecutive terms (six years total), that tax revenue is being spend legally and wisely, and that an alderman is attending commission meetings to provide oversight.
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