Kingsport BMA appoints panel to create oversight board

Matthew Lane • Jul 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — As a result of ongoing tensions between the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and the Kingsport Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week appointed a new three-member committee charged with creating a new oversight board for the KCVB and settling any future disputes between the two organizations.

The KCVB is a partnership between the city and the chamber and oversees and promotes tourism in the Model City. One of its main responsibilities is handling the many AAU events that come to Kingsport every year. The KCVB is a program of the chamber, its office is located in the chamber office on Main Street and ultimately answers to chamber CEO Miles Burdine.

Pal’s Sudden Service owner Pal Barger, retiring Northeast State Community College President Dr. Bill Locke and former Kingsport Alderman Mike O’Neill were appointed to this new three-member committee. Mayor Dennis Phillips said they will likely meet before the end of the year and appointed a new oversight committee for the KCVB.

The current KCVB council is around 30 members; in addition the KCVB has an executive committee of six members. Phillips said he does not know what type of committee or how many this new three-member group would form. Colette George, chair of the KCVB executive committee, said the new oversight committee would probably be 9 to 11 members and include people who work in the tourism industry.

The new three-member committee has also been tasked with resolving any disputes that come up between the chamber and KCVB.

The reason why this new committee has been formed probably dates back to 2006 when Jenny Seguin — the former director of KCVB — was fired for insubordination, a move that caused some tension between the two organizations, Phillips said.

“When Jenny was replaced many people started taking sides and some people possibly started maybe trying to micromanage and everything seemed to get blown somewhat out of proportion,” Phillips said.

Back in 2006, Phillips created an ad hoc committee to develop recommendations on how the KCVB and the chamber might work better together in the future. One recommendation was that the decision-making power on tourism-related matters belonged to the KCVB council.

The latest dust-up between the two organizations had to do with Burdine tasking the KCVB with overseeing the marketing of Fun Fest this year.

“It upset some members of the council, who did not feel like Fun Fest was an appropriate venue for the KCVB,” Phillips said. “But that’s not the reason (the new three-member committee) was done. There’s no single thing, but we keep seeing little things come up and we had to say, what could we put in place that may better handle this?”

Burdine said he charged the KCVB with the marketing of Fun Fest this year after consulting with some key volunteers involved in Fun Fest and the chamber and that it was an idea that began being talked about two years ago. The reason why the move was enacted this year was because Fun Fest has struggled financially for the past few years, Burdine said.

“My responsibility is to figure out the best way to run all of the programs and to leverage resources among all the programs, and make them all successful,” Burdine said. “(Marketing) expertise does not lie in the two-person staff at Fun Fest, but it does in the KCVB. Logically, the KCVB was asked to support the marketing of Fun Fest. It was logical that we make that happen and we had a much better year this year. Early indications are good.”

George said she sees Fun Fest more of a local event, rather than a tourist event.

“I think Fun Fest really benefited from the expertise of KCVB. Normally the KCVB is not designed for local festivals, but I think Fun Fest was at a point where they needed some of the expertise Judd and his staff could do,” George said. “There was a need, but at the same time we’ve got local hoteliers wanting us to spend our time in another direction.”

Phillips said an agreement between the chamber and the KCVB had been in the works for five to six months, with Vice-Mayor Ben Mallicote essentially brokering the deal.

“Ideally, this three-person committee will never have to meet to solve any disputes, but it enables us to have the best chamber president and KCVB director without putting them in any positions,” Phillips said. “It takes some power away from Miles (Burdine) if you look at it in the worst case scenario. If they can’t resolve (a dispute) themselves, then it gives them that avenue.

Burdine and KCVB Director Judd Teague issued a joint statement in support of the creation of the new three-member committee, saying they now wish to move forward. George said the new committee is a move in the right direction that will benefit the chamber and the KCVB in the long run.

During last week’s BMA meeting, Alderwoman Valerie Joh made the motion that one year from now the KCVB would separate from the chamber. The motion failed on a 2 to 5 vote, with Alderman Ken Marsh voting with Joh on her motion.

“I believe their mission statements are different and most cities who have the size (convention and visitors bureau) Kingsport has, they are separate entities,” George said. “In the long run it’s the natural progression of where they’ll go.”

Burdine said the KCVB has always been a program of the chamber and there are no plans to separate the two organizations.

“We prefer to keep it that way,” he said.

Phillips said he does not think there needs to be a split at this time.

“There certainly could come a time when in the best interest of them to be in separate locations, as we become bigger and become more tourism oriented. It could be a possibility,” Phillips said.

Three years ago, Phillips’ ad hoc committee found no sentiment within the KCVB Council or the chamber for the KCVB to be moved outside the chamber.

According to the KCVB, the organization receives nearly $1.2 million in funding from two sources:

• 62.5 percent from the hotel-motel tax, or roughly $850,000.

• The remaining $300,000 comes from the sporting event operations.

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