Establishing a finance committee for the London City Tourism board and hiring of employees were two topics addressed during the board's regular monthly meeting on Monday evening.
The idea of a finance committee was suggested by Board Chair Starr Handy, who said a finance committee might be needed to work with Mayor Troy Rudder on COVID relief funding. Handy said the finance committee would review funding, review the budget, or even put funds in short-term CDs in order to draw interest before being cashed in. Board members Lois McWhorter and Kelly Greene both questioned why a finance committee was needed, since the board oversees the revenues from the city's restaurant tax. Board members then agreed to table that idea until the next meeting.
The summer concert series was also discussed with a committee established for those events. Handy and Tourism Executive Director Chris Robinson both said a budget for the summer concert series needed to be established - with those issues needing to come before a finance committee.
Douglas Phelps, who coordinated the 2021 concert series, said preparations for the upcoming year were already overdue, telling commissioners that booking acts should have began several months ago. Phelps said the production costs and entertainers cost $64,636 for the four concerts combined, that featured 14 bands.
"We also purchased an $11,500 drum riser that we have to use in the future and a spotlight and backdrop that we also still have," Phelps added.
Food, catering, lodging and security for the entertainment acts added another $11,000 to the list, resulting in commissioners considering setting the budget at $100,000 for the coming year. Then came a discussion on establishing a committee to oversee those events that would be targeted toward featuring another event on Saturday as a means of getting people to stay overnight. The June concert will tie in with the ASA archery tournament that brings in thousands of visitors each year. The July date coincides with the Red White & Boom event, offering people in the area two nights of entertainment. Robinson added that the city tourism could partner with the county tourism board to create events to keep people in town for the weekend, with county tourism co-executive director Kelly Burton - who was present for the meeting - agreeing to help with those plans. Burton also announced that another Heritage Music Series is being planned for March 2022.
After more discussion, commissioners agreed to establish a committee for the Town Center Concert series, with Holly Little and Phil Smith as the city tourism board representatives, with Doug Phelps and Travis Farris as committee members.
Another issue was voting to hire employees for the city tourism commission. Previously, Robinson, Community Center Director Brittany Cradic, Parks Supervisor Mackey Williams and Park Superintendent Steven Holt were hired by the commission in its transition into a SPGE that is separate from the city. During Monday's meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to hire the following employees: Deborah Wyatt, community center; Jonathan Mackowiak, Malvin Merced, Jordan Steele, Jake Hartzell, Courtney Fedders, Brian Smith and Glenn Chesnut for the parks department and William Jones and Bryan Bowling as night watchmen. Commissioners voted unanimously to accept those employees for hire.
Although Wyatt was rehired at the London Community Center, executive director Brittany Cradic said that Wyatt had expressed her intent to retire on Feb. 28 and that the council should consider another candidate to fill that spot. Cradic said she'd like to have another person already trained to fill that position when Wyatt leaves. Robinson added to that, stating that the transition to an SPGE was time consuming and that current secretary Angelique Hatmaker was assisting "as a favor." Robinson said that as the transition continues into next year, the commission should consider adding another person to the tourism payroll to assist in that process.
The transition to an SPGE is furthering in its processes. Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the City of London's personnel policy - which also includes the Ethics and Nepotism ordinances. Health insurance has been completed with Handy stating that there would only be a slight increase in few employees' plans. Robinson reported that the state had rejected the city tourism's request for retirement and that Mayor Rudder had agreed to allow city tourism to remain on the city's plan. The new checking account has been established and Robinson asked for the credit card limit to be increased from $5,000 to $10,000, which commissioners approved. Robinson also said the payroll for city/city tourism employees would be split into two weekly checks over the holiday weeks. He said the city tourism payroll will begin on Jan. 1, so those employees who are moving from the city payroll to the city tourism payroll will receive a check for the week ending Dec. 31 from the city, while the next week will be from the city tourism payroll. He added that the payroll will then be on a two-week basis.
Park property was also discussed by Brian House, operator of Laurel Funeral Home. House said many of the gravestones of the Jackson and Freeman family cemeteries were damaged. House said he was willing to supply plaques with the names of the deceased on the gravesites where the memorials were destroyed and/or unreadable. Phelps said some of the gravestones were damaged, including some family members of the founders of London in the Freeman Cemetery as well as some of those in the Jackson family cemetery that is included in the Levi Jackson park property.
"Some of those stones are badly damaged and I hate to see a cemetery in disarray," House said. "The funeral home will supply the plaques, replacing the funeral home's name and logo with the city's logo. It will be no cost to the city, but I'll have to do it gradually."
The annual downtown Christmas parade drew in over 2,000 participants this year, Robinson told board members, as well as thousands of people lining the streets to watch the hour-long parade. The New Year's Eve party is also expected to have a huge turnout, with Robinson stating that the cancellation of last year's downtown celebration would probably result in more people attending this year. Cradic, who is coordinating the event with Robinson, said the streets would be shut down at 6 p.m. with Rhythm Dance Studio dancers performing a New York City Rockettes-style show at 8:45 p.m. Although the headlining act does not begin until 9 p.m.
The Dribble Drive basketball tournament, hosted at South Laurel High School, is another event that is expected to draw visitors into London over the Christmas holidays. The tourism commission was asked to help sponsor that event, with commissioners voting to allot $5,000 toward that tournament. Burton said the tournament brings in 150 athletes as well as other family members, averaging around 400 people from out of the county.
"When you add up food and lodging, the total spending is estimated at $80,000," Burton said.
Parks Supervisor Mackey Williams told commissioners that work on the Levi Jackson pool could result in massive costs, with leaks and bubbling of the new surface in the pool. Williams said he had met with the campground board and that the pool itself may need replaced - issues that the state park system was aware of. Williams also said the intended demolition of the shelter house by the park museum may have to be postponed, as the bookings for that area were coming in. Williams said the shelter house, which is in need of structural repair, could be fixed for usage "one more year," then have a design for a new more efficient shelter house.
The city's pickle ball court at Whitley Branch Veterans Park is still waiting for equipment to arrive for its completion, with Williams stating that finding someone with the equipment was difficult. He did say that two shelter houses for that area had been completed, with straw and grass seed already in place.