Tourism committee struggles with issues

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer August 06, 2013 09:50 pm

When fires broke out in the Rogue River Valley last month, Gold Beach and Crescent City were all over it.

The city of Gold Beach immediately changed its website to let people know the “Coast is Clear!” Jerry’s Rogue Jets blanketed the area with emails. A commercial touting the clean air and fun activities on the coast was aired on inland television. Crescent City did the same, nominating itself as a refuge from the smoke.

Brookings was noticeably absent from the advertising flurry.

The ability to immediately respond — or inability thereof — is one of the problems in the structure of the Tourism and Marketing Committee the group wants to address as it goes forward.

The timing was ominous, as the city council recently asked the board how it wants to proceed since it now has almost a year experience in television, Internet and event marketing.

The advisory committee was formed last fall and suggests ways the city council can increase tourism here using its transient occupancy taxes. As of July 1, another fiscal year — and an estimated $35,000 in available tourism funds — is upon them.

Part of a restructuring will likely include appointing a chairperson and determining the qualifications needed to join the board — a major bone of contention at last week’s meeting, and one that almost caused talks to break down for the second time.

The group agreed it needs more structure — perhaps even outlining it under the city’s municipal code — but arguments about hidden agendas, politics and personalities erupted about halfway through the meeting.

Barbara Ciramella, a realtor on the board, lashed out against another member, noting that person had less-than-exceptional experience and had a “couple of failed businesses.”

Ciramella said she feels the committee should be comprised of people with a professional, vested interest in tourism, including representatives from the Port of Brookings Harbor and the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

That received a less-than-enthusiastic response.

Tim Patterson, newly appointed to the port board, said getting a representative from the port could take months. Additionally, a new interim president is at the helm of the chamber, and no one knows the immediate future of that organization.

Other committee members said they thought the group had done well in the past six months, having gone from little experience — and no structure — to championing the city with commercials in the Rogue River Valley, funding startup events and Internet spots.

Ciramella thought otherwise.

“I don’t think it’s worked perfectly since the beginning,” she said. “We’ve lost half our committee members because a few people have taken over. A few people have elected themselves. There is no structure. Three people made a decision for the whole board (at the last meeting). I’d love to be a part of it, but I don’t feel I am.

“I feel like we’re all spinning our wheels,” Ciramella added. “I want to work together as a team. It’s a new day; we need to move forward for the best of the city.”

Others noted that only two board members are no longer active — state parks representative Brent Siebold who retired and moved, and jewelry store owner Jeremy Small who couldn’t make meetings — and a decision made at the last meeting was only done without Ciramella because of a deadline.

The committee now includes Ciramella; Bob Pieper, owner of Hearth and Home; Peter Spratt, manager with the Brookings Inn and Flying Gull Restaurant; Tim Patterson, owner of the Redwood Theater and port board member; and retirees Joe Willett and Candice Michel.

Ciramella indicated she would prefer the city council codify by ordinance the qualifications and duties of a board that now merely makes recommendations to the city council on how to spend its tourism dollars.

Others felt they shouldn’t quite leap to that extreme, and perhaps ease into it by incorporating more strict requirements regarding new members’ experience.

“If you’ve been a government employee your entire life, this is not the committee for you,” Spratt said. “It’s better to have some experience in tourism and advertising than not have any.”

“I don’t want anybody on the committee who’s all about tourism,” Pieper stated. “I don’t want to be another Seaside.

“Yeah, a bunch of hicks run this town, but that’s OK,” he added. “Look at (Washington) D.C., and all those Harvard people. I’d rather have hicks running this town.”