County Board Returns Tourism Alliance Revamp to Committee
By 25 to 4 vote Tuesday, April 16, Marinette County Board served a strong notice to its Economic Development and Tourism Committee that it wants them to take another look at its proposed reorganization of the Tourism Alliance Committee.
That proposal, presented to the board in resolution form, would have cut Alliance membership from 15 members to seven members. Of those seven members, one each was to have been recommended by the respective mayors of Marinette, Niagara and Peshtigo, two would be appointed from the Economic Development and Tourism Committee membership, and two at-large members, representing different areas of the county, would have been appointed by the County Administrator after being recruited by the application process.
The resolution specified that all members except the county Board Supervisors would serve as volunteers and not receive compensation of any type, including mileage or per diem. That has also been the case with the existing Alliance membership, and comments from many supervisors indicated they felt that may be at least part of the reason the group has had a problem getting a quorum assembled to even hold a meeting. Members also have resigned for various reasons and some seats remain vacant.
The proposed new Alliance format was developed by a work group that did its work outside of the open meetings format generally required of officially appointed committees and subcommittees of county government. Members, appointed by Economic Development Committee Chair Ken Casper, were Supervisor Nick Lakari, who chairs the Alliance, and Renee Kresl, who serves as its treasurer, along with himself, UWEX Community Development Agent Paul Putnam, County Administrator Ellen Sorensen. Becky DeWitt, who had been Alliance vice chair when the group started, was also included. DeWitt was been named Interim Tourism Director following the resignation of her predecessor, Jamie Darge.
The proposal brought to the County Board had not been seen by the Tourism Alliance prior to being included on the County Board agenda. However, Lakari had reported to them in March what the proposal might be, and an Alliance meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 11 was canceled due to bad weather.
Two Alliance members, Shirley Prudhomme and John Guarisco, had spoken against the proposal Lakari described at the March meeting, and said if the tourism industry representation was eliminated the Alliance was not needed and their work could be handled by the Economic Development and Tourism Committee without another layer of bureaucracy. Alliance members did not vote on the issue at all. What had been described to them by Lakari is what was eventually put into resolution form.
Their parent group, the Economic Development Committee, had viewed the resolution at a special morning session on Monday, April 15. They approved it by a split three to two vote, after it had already been placed in the board packet. Supervisors Shirley Kaufman of Marinette, who serves on the Alliance, and Supervisor Gilbert Engel of Niagara, were opposed, or at least opposed to acting before the Alliance itself had expressed an opinion. Lakari, Casper and County Administrator disagreed with suggestions that with a tourism director and a professional advertising agency the remaining Alliance work could be handled by the Economic Development and Tourism Committee just as other committees supervise their departments.
During time for public comment at Mondays meeting Prudhomme had briefly explained that the Alliance was created when she was a County Supervisor and chair of the Economic Development Committee. She said it was intended to be the nucleus of a partnership to harness the expertise, enthusiasm and experience of people who learn their livings in tourist related businesses in every area of Marinette County with a partnership between them, as volunteer members, and elected members of county government, which provided the seed money. It also was intended to tie all parts of the county together and share information. She said their hope at the time was that the Alliance would some day become self supporting. When it started it was part of Marinette County Association for Business and Industry, with Don Clewley at the helm, but the work load became too heavy for a one-person office.
She felt with the proposed format there was no guarantee any people directly knowledgeable about tourism would be on the Alliance, and no guarantee that parts of the county most involved in tourism would even be represented.
She found it insulting that members of the Alliance who over the years had contributed countless hours at no cost to the county were not at least given an opportunity to be heard by the work group, and were never asked why they felt it had become so difficult to get a quorum.
Discussion and debate on the issue lasted nearly two hours at the Monday committee meeting, and ended with the split vote in favor of moving the proposal along to County Board without waiting for Alliance Committee input. Voting in favor were supervisors Casper, Lakari and Al Mans, while Kaufman and Engel were opposed.
In the course of discussion Lakari had explained the change was proposed because over half the time for at least the past two years they have been unable to get enough members together for a meeting. It is urgent to get something done soon because their management contract with the Chamber of Commerce expires at the end of this year and will need to be either re-negotiated or some other solution found. It was mentioned that Crivitz Recreation Association might want a chance to bid on the contract.
At County Board meetings, time for public comment is among the first items on the agenda. Speakers at Tuesdays meeting were Jim Kolross, speaking against the reconstruction of County BB as planned, and John Guarisco, a former County Board supervisor, current volunteer member of the Tourism Alliance, and president of the Crivitz Recreation Association, an organization long involved with promoting tourism in Crivitz and the surrounding area.
Kolross described the proposed reconstruction of Shore Drive as a huge waste of taxpayers money...Three years of wasted design work and now we see a huge overkill in the design...The cost has tripled since the start... Kolross said he and other Shore Drive residents feel the design should again be re-done, to make it more favorable to them and all the taxpayers of Marinette County. There was no County Board action slated on the BB project for Tuesdays meeting.
When Guarisco came up to speak Engel asked that the rules be suspended to allow him more than the 5 minutes normally, and that he be allowed to have some question and answer interchange with the board. Supervisor Mike Behnke of Peshtigo seconded and there were no dissenting votes.
Guarisco said he had just learned the previous day that the proposal to restructure the Alliance would be on Tuesdays County Board agenda. He said the work group had not posted notices of their meetings, nor did they post minutes. I know its not illegal, but something that important shouldnt happen that quickly...Give people time to digest things and get all the information!
Guarisco noted when the Alliance was started there was $95,000 in the annual budget, nearly all of which went for advertising. Alliance members had a lot of work to do. Then they hired the Chamber of Commerce for $50,000 a year to provide a tourism Director, and Otter Marketing was hired to design and place ads, meaning there was even less work for the Alliance to do. He said members get frustrated at having to leave their own businesses on a busy evening to drive perhaps 50 miles to a meeting at which they had little if any input into what was being done.
He felt there would be the same quorum problems with a smaller volunteer group that there are with a larger one. One suggestion would be to eliminate the Alliance sub committees and have marketing and other responsibilities handled by the Alliance as a whole. He also suggested eliminating the Alliance and putting the Economic Development and Tourism committee directly in charge of supervising tourism marketing, and if they dont have the background, put somebody on that committee who does.
Guarisco was asked if Crivitz Rec was planning to bid on the Tourism contract currently held by the Chamber, and he said they were not. He said they had met the previous evening and decided they are not ready to take on that role.
Engel began to question Guarisco and County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder attempted to cut off discussion, saying exchanges are not allowed between supervisors and speakers from the public. He was later reminded of the motion that had been approved to suspend the rules.
Engel questioned the proposal to have the three mayors in the county each appoint an Alliance member, when the cities are in areas that do not focus on tourism. He suggested it would make as much sense to have the Silver Cliff Town Chair appoint members of the Association for Business and Industry. He said the City of Niagara, for example, would get to appoint a representative, but they have almost no tourism to promote, Tourism is more out in the towns.
Supervisor Kathy Just asked Guarisco if he felt the tourism group could resolve this, and he felt they could. He said there are currently two vacancies, and two very qualified people have applied to fill them, Then we will have a full committee.
I think this has gone on long enough, Casper objected. He said the questions could be answered when the resolution came up for action. Guarisco said he most likely would not beallowed to speak then.
Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison reminded Casper County Board had voted to suspend the rules to allow Guarisco more time, and opportunity to ask and answer questions. The discussion went on.
Mans asked where the tourism director would fit in with Guariscos thoughts, and was told there are many loose ends right now, particularly with the resignation of the tourism director and naming an Alliance member as an interim replacement. He said Crivitz Rec is not prepare to step in at this time, our mission statement is to promote the Crivitz area, not Marinette County...I dont think were up to capacity to have an employee and run the Alliance...Although we may be in a few years.
That discussion ended, but resumed again when time came to vote on the resolution. Casper gave a history of the problem with getting quorums. As to the Alliance having no representation, Casper said the majority of the work group was made up of the Alliance executive committee, officers Lakari, Kresl and DeWitt. He said they are trying to fix the problem, and maintained the Alliance has done a good job for the county, despite its problems, but it is important for them to meet regularly to give direction to the Chamber or whoever holds the contract. The work group, he said, agreed 100 percent with the proposal County Board was being asked to approve.
Mattison gave a brief history of the Alliance, starting when it was handled by MCABI. Initially there were 11 members, and then it was expanded to 15. She said early on the Alliance indicated they would eventually become a 501(3)(C) corporation, but somehow after the current committee was formed that did not happen. As to what should be done, I have no opinion, Im just giving history, Mattison said.
I understand the problem with quorums, but there certainly is a disconnect between the committee, Just declared. She moved to refer it back to the Tourism Alliance Committee so they can work with the Economic Development Committee and get it resolved, with a proposal to come back in June.
Supervisor Russ Bauer felt Alliance members should be compensated for mileage and meeting attendance, just like civilian members of all other county committees.
Mans said that had been hashed out in the work group, and Casper agreed. Kaufman was told she could not attend the work group meetings because her presence there would make up a quorum of the Economic Development Committee.
Schroeder told him that suggestion was not on the floor. After other supervisors attempted to make the same suggestion and were told by Schroeder, thats completely separate and not on the floor, it was pointed out that the resolution specifically states there would be no compensation except for the county supervisors, so discussion on that issue is appropriate.
Lakari felt the argument that the Alliance had no input was invalid.
Kaufman maintained the Alliance should have seen the final proposal and have a chance to comment on it before it was brought to County Board for final action. She too felt the proposal should be tabled and brought back in May.
Engel raised a number of questions, mainly centered on lack of input from the entire Alliance when the planning for change was being done, and on lack of rural, northern and tourist area representation on the proposed smaller committee. He seconded Justs motion to postpone.
Mattison said a work group could not include all members of a committee or it would not be a work group.
Supervisor Ted Sauve also raised a number of objections, first, why would a quorum be more likely with seven members - five of them volunteers - than with 15, second, what guarantee was provided for geographical representation, and third, he agreed with Bauer that the volunteers should be compensated as they are with other committees.
Again Schroeder told him that was not part of the discussion, and this time it was challenged by Supervisor C. J. Barrette: How can you say that when its right here in the resolution? she demanded.
Supervisor Mike Cassidy said he too opposed the resolution because it lacked representation from the north. A few years ago we had a representative, Cassidy said. She resigned and told me, Mike, they dont give a damn.
Supervisor Al Sauld agreed with Cassidy and Gilbert that the north was poorly represented, but said the Town of Niagara has great potential for tourism and does have attractions. He agreed there should be compensation, adding with todays gas prices a 94-mile round trip for meetings always held in Crivitz or Marinette can get expensive.
Engel called for a roll call vote on the motion to postpone action, and it passed by the 25 to 4 margin. Supervisor Connie Seefeldt was absent, attending the funeral of her mother. Only supervisors Casper, Lakari, Mans and Policello voted in favor.
In more routine business, retirement proclamations were presented to two employees, one to former Forest and Parks Administrator John Scott, who had worked for the county for 34 years, and the other to Dorothy Kaminsky, who had been employed by the Library for 20 years. Other retirees receiving proclamations but not present to receive them were Daniel Cisar, Highway, 27 years; Gerald Edlebeck, Highway, 28 years; Lawrence M. Gardon, Highway, 24 years; Maurice R. Prestine, Jr., Highway, 36 years; Gerald W. Sylvester, Jr., Maintenance, 17 years, and Allen R. Urbaniak, Highway, 22 years.
A few personnel changes were approved. A combined position of Family Court Commissioner and Register of Probate is being created immediately, along with a Deputy Register of Probate/Legal Secretary position. Current Family Court Commissioner is Francis Boyle. The separate Family court Commissioner and Register in Probate positions will be eliminated once the new position is filled. The Register in Probate post is currently vacant.
The board approved a $134,135 contract with PHD Roof Doctor of Fredonia for the UW-Marinette roof project, pending corporation counsel review.
A name change creating a Community Services Mental Health Therapist at the Niagara office was approved. The board was assurred current services will continue.
There was a long and informative presentation by WCA Legislative Director John Hochkammer, on how county boards can impact the legislative process and advocate on behalf of county programs. He asked supervisors to somewhat become their own lobbyists and contact their legislators on state programs that greatly affect counties. Hochkammer was introduced by WCA Field Rep Keith Longenheim.
The board approved Sorensens appointment of Michael Mick Runnow to the Aging and Disability Resource Center Governing Board, and Supervisor Mike Cassidy to the Northwoods Rail Consortium.
Resolutions expressing opposition to funding cuts for the Child Support program and state interference in Milwaukee County Board matters were approved.
After a few questions and assurances by Sheriff Jerry Sauve that a five year contract with Brown County Juvenile Detention Center for 200 bed days a year at a cost of $22,000 a year was the best and cheapest alternative, board approval was unanimous. Sauve pointed out Marinette county has been contracting with Oconto County to house its problem juvenile boys, but that facility will close at the end of June.
The board approved a contract with Capital Data for $96,683.75 for purchase and installation of virtual servers, depending on Corporation Counsel review.
They also okayed transfer of $831.46 left from the Veterans Service Transportation Grant funds to the non-lapsing account, and transfer of an additional $10,720 from the Forestry and Parks Development Fund for purchase of a generator for Goodman Park with an additional 5-year guarantee.
Transfer of $70,000 from the health and Human Services fund balance for replacement and upgrading of the departments computer systems was approved.
Highway Department recommendations to purchase $88,000 of paint from Sherwin Williams, $18,000 of reflective glass beads from Potter Industries, $50,000 of rubberized crack filler from Sherwin Industries, $210,000 of liquid asphalt materials from Meigs Paving, Asphalts and Emulsions, and $1,700,000 of hot mix asphalt from North East Asphalt were unanimously approved. Also approved, subject to Corporate Counsel review, was purchase and installation of a hardened steel dump box from Truck Equipment for $28,000.
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