By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — In a four-to-two vote, the London City Council passed the second reading of an ordinance that established a city tourism and convention commission during a special-called meeting Thursday night.
Council members Judd Weaver and Danny Phelps voted against the ordinance noting they were concerned that having two tourism commissions in Laurel County could potentially cause a division between the city and county.
“It is that division that worries me, that is the last thing I want. I want to be progressive and work together. I understand your point, Tom, and I don’t want it to appear secretive. If we have two different organizations we will each hold one another accountable. It is time to do this and especially work together. That concern is pulling me both ways though,” Weaver said.
Councilman Dan Phelps voiced his concern that having two tourism commissions would be “redundant.”
“My worry is that it will become two organizations competing for the same thing. I think it will add division,” Phelps said.
Councilman Bobby Joe Parman then spoke, saying that he had taken phone calls, some people for it and some against it.
“I also had people that work for the tourism commission call me that are concerned for their jobs,” Parman said.
Mayor Troy Rudder addressed the council members' concerns.
“There’s lots of places that work in a cooperative relationship, and we want to do that,” Rudder said. “We want to work with the committee, we want to work with the commissioners, we want to work with the directors, but it’s time that we take control and get involved with the things we have going on in the city.”
Rudder went on to address rumors the city planned to take the three percent transient room tax that currently funds the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission, including salaries for the commission’s executive directors.
“We have no control of the jobs at the tourist commission now and we’ve made it clear that were not going to take any of their money,” Rudder said. “I think (Attorney) Larry (Bryson) can confirm we haven’t even looked in to that item to see if that’s possible. That is their money and we will find a way to find money for the city’s (commission).”
Rudder continued by explaining the reasoning behind establishing a city tourism and convention commission.
“We have so many festivals, so many events occurring I feel it’s time we take a more active control over the path we’re going to follow,” Rudder said. “There isn’t a single business person out here that would want a single organization to do all their advertising and chose their path.”
“It’s time this committee gets involved with our city,” Rudder continued. “A council and a mayor need to be more involved with the things that are going on. I think we can work together, any of us.”
Prior to taking a vote on the ordinance, Rudder opened the floor for discussion, inviting the audience members to discuss their concerns. In the audience were several members of the London-Laurel County Tourist Commission, including executive co-directors Kim Collier and Rodney Hendrickson and commission board chairman Tom Handy.
“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. It is hurtful that 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 said. He continued by stating that the current commission would have liked to have been brought into the discussion on the matter.
“The reason for the secrecy and the motivation behind it is something that you need to explain. But I am not here to cause a problem. I am here to do anything I can to promote tourism. Your purpose is the same purpose that we have,” he said.
Handy suggested the two groups consider emulating the tourism programs in Boone, N.C. In May, Rudder and Hendrickson visited Boone to see how they designed parks and other tourist attractions.
Boone has a city tourism commission and a county commission. The two commissions share directors. The shared director is responsible for planning budgets, organizing events and ensuring the two groups work together.
Rudder agreed he felt this method would likely be the best way for both organizations to exist and work cooperatively.
Corbin Times Tribune writer Charlotte Underwood contributed to this story.