August 15, 2013

Publisher's Notebook: City’s motives still questioned

By Willie Sawyers

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Tom Handy is widely known for his oratory skills. When he was in front of a jury as commonwealth’s attorney, the criminals started shaking in their shoes as he laid out the case. He was that persuasive.

Last Thursday when he was in front of the London City Council, Handy also displayed some significant carpentry skills, because he sure hit the nail squarely on the head.

Handy questioned why the city wanted to form its own tourism commission, when the tourism group he’s been a part of for 40 years has done a good job promoting London and Laurel County. He also wondered why his commission wasn’t brought in on the city’s discussion.

“I would like to say I look at this council up here and look at people, one a relative and the rest are lifetime friends, ” Handy said to the city council. “It is hurtful we didn’t have any news of this while it was discussed. A natural reaction when something is done in secret behind closed doors without communication is distrust. What is the motive? We have always worked together. Always. We always have open meetings, always give the mayor a copy of our financial statements. We have always worked together and will continue to work together.”

Handy struck a perfect tone of bewilderment for the city’s “blitzkrieg of action” to establish its own tourism commission in less than a week, while extending a hand of cooperation. He chose to take the high road, probably because the low road was already crowded with the mayor and council members.

So, Laurel County now has two tourism commissions, without a plan of exactly how the city’s will be funded and how the two will work together. Mayor Troy Rudder said London followed Somerset’s example to form its own commission. But there was a big difference between the two cities. Somerset’s mayor was openly hostile toward the county commission and said his city has been shut out of tourism efforts. That’s not been the case in London, at least on the surface.

Handy suggested the two commissions share the same co-directors.

“That is something we could have explored and we still could explore it,” he said. “In this time of tight budgets, we don’t need to duplicate if unnecessary.”

The suggestion was met with some enthusiasm during the meeting. London Downtown Executive Director Chris Robinson cited Boone, N.C. as an example of a city and county that shares tourism directors.

“I think it is a great opportunity to share the directors and have the same spokespeople, but have different commissions,” he said.

The idea could also turn into a red herring, because sharing directors goes against what the mayor proclaimed was the city’s explicit desire to take “control of our own future.”

It remains to be seen exactly how this is going to work out and the city’s true motives in starting its own tourism commission. The way it took the action also leads to questions, without notice to the other commission and calling a special meeting three days after the first vote to make final approval. What’s the rush?

Handy alluded to the city’s motives in his summation.

“We will work with you in any way that we can. We want to continue working with you, but we can’t do that if you don’t tell us what your ambitions and motives are, if you do it in secret.”

It’s possible the two tourism commissions can work together and be like Boone, N.C. But the effort will be hampered because the mayor and city council approached this significant development completely wrong. They interjected suspicions and questions where there didn’t need to be any.

Handy and other members of the London-Laurel County Tourism Commission, who have worked tirelessly to promote tourism in the area for decades, didn’t deserve the way they were treated by the city.

Now, it’s going to be hard working with someone you don’t trust.