City Tourism reviews discrepancies on commissioner's terms; Plans to review job positions and pay for employees

Photo by Nita Johnson

Doug Phelps points out some discrepancies in the term expirations of city tourism commissioners during a special-called meeting of the board on Thursday evening. Phelps claims that term start dates and expiration dates are not in compliance with the statutes regulating tourism commission terms since its establishment in London in November 2013.

The City of London Tourism is taking steps in their independence from the City of London's oversight, complying with state laws governing Special Purpose Government Entity (SPGE) boards. Some of those were discussed during a special-called meeting of the city tourism commission on Thursday evening. That meeting generated some questions and some heated discussion regarding board appointments.

Controversy arose when Douglas Phelps, who has pushed tourism members to comply with state laws overseeing tourism commissions, addressed the board regarding discrepancies in the term appointments of commissioners. With several posters demonstrating the initial appointments that have three people serving three-year terms, two serving two-year terms and three serving one-year terms. The commission is comprised of three representatives from the Hotel/Motel Association, one from the Chamber of Commerce, two from the City of London, and one representing the restaurant/food industry. However, after completing the first term, renewed commissioners are appointed to three year terms, Phelps told board members.

He then referred to posters with the flow of the term renewals, pointing out that according to the current renewal dates, Chairman Steve Berry and Commissioner Holly Little - both of whom represent the hotel/motel association - have terms expiring this year.

"It just hit me that they both represent the hotel association and those terms are never supposed to fall in the same year," Phelps explained. "So I did my research."

What he found was that the initial appointments for city tourism commissioners came on Nov. 27, 2013. Those appointed to serve were "staggered" with the three-year, two-year, one-year terms, with any future appointments being a three-year term. Yet, several commissioners have dates conflicting with the November date as well as the years their term expires. Phelps demonstrated the flow of the terms with posters on the wall of the meeting room in the London Community Center, explaining who the initial appointee was and who the current representative is. That chart showed that Little and Mike Holt, a city appointee, have terms expiring in 2021. Commissioners Bill Dezarn and Starr Handy have terms expiring in 2022, while Chairman Steve Berry and commissioners Lois McWhorter and Troy House had terms expiring in 2020. Another catch to that, however, is that Berry's term, under the current worksheet, is listed as expiring in 2021. On the same day as the special-called meeting, however, another person was notified of their appointment to Berry's seat, leaving the 7-member commission with two additional members. Under KRS 91, any member whose term expires and did not receive notification of replacement or renewal is automatically renewed after 30 days, making Berry's term continue until 2024.

Another issue is the appointment of Phil Smith to replace Troy House on the commission.

Phelps cited a letter written to House in November 2020, re-appointing him to a three-year term. House represents the food industry. However, House received a notice from London Mayor Troy Rudder in July 2021, informing him his term expired in August, thanking him for his service. Phil Smith was then appointed in that spot in August.

House sat in the audience during the meeting, declining to address the commission regarding the situation. Phelps, however, said that Smith was appointed while House's term was still active. Smith countered, stating that he would step down if the alignment of terms was off-base, adding that he wanted the commission to function effectively.

"I am honored to serve on this commission," Smith said, with his voice full of emotion. "You have a great impact on the future of this community. All I want is for the best thing to be done and if that means stepping down, I will do it."

Vice Chair Starr Handy, who conducted the in-person meeting due to Chairman Steve Berry being out of town, told Smith that such action was not necessary, with House interjecting that his goal was the same - to do what is right and promote London in a positive manner. Phelps interrupted, stating that his research had no personal indications toward any member - that he only wanted the commission to comply with the laws. Handy and Phelps then engaged in a discussion with Handy stating that the commission would work with the mayor to rectify the term expiration dates - that the commission could not do so since the mayor appoints commissioners.

Commissioners also dealt with business related to complying with the SPGE transition. Rocky Binder with Patton Chesnut & Binder was on hand to answer any questions from commissioners after Robinson explained that all employees falling under the city tourism payroll would continue on the same insurance policy as the city employees for the remainder of the year. The City of London Tourism Commission will fall under the SPGE regulations on Nov. 1, 2021. The new insurance policy will be revised and go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022 although the specifics of what - if any - changes would be made to the policy will be reviewed and made known prior to that time. Robinson also said that Green & McCowan will handle the city tourism payroll while Abner & Cox will serve as accountants.

Another issue surrounding the change is to review the current job positions that fall under the city tourism's realm. Handy said the commission needed to "bring the people and properties together," adding that there was no need for a park superintendent as the city tourism already has Mackey Williams as director of the city parks.

"We need someone to oversee the facilities, events and attractions, look at the revenue areas such as Treetop (Adventures), cabin rentals, the campground and the pool," Handy explained.

Robinson added that current employees at Levi Jackson park could submit applications for the new positions, with commissioners voting unanimously to review the employee positions and revise those as needed, including salary and job descriptions.

In other business, commissioners voted to contribute $1,000 to the Cardinal Classic, a marching band competition hosted by South Laurel High School.

The Cardinal Classic brings in bands from across the state - this year will feature 17 bands vying for the top spot in their division as well as the Grand Champion award. The band has requested financial backing for the event, scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 16.

Tourism executive director Chris Robinson told commission members that the event brings in approximately 7,000 people, counting the band members, and does qualify as a tourism event. He added that the money is needed to pay for the judges for the competition as well as trophies for the winners. After some discussion, Lois McWhorter made a motion to contribute $1,000 - which was seconded by Commissioner Holly Little. The motion passed unanimously.

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