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Curtain Falls on May 2013 City Council Performances

SedonaEye.com columnist, Eddie S. Maddock, questions the decision-making process to spend on wish lists and not address the "broken" in the city

SedonaEye.com columnist, Eddie S. Maddock, examines the 2013 May performance of the Sedona City Council

Sedona AZ (June 5, 2013) – After the Sedona City Council’s Pre & Regular Meetings (3:00 PM & 4:30 PM respectively) on May 28, followed by a Special Meeting at 3:00 PM on the 29th, the final curtain (minus fanfare for an encore) came to rest, concluding the May performances in City Hall Council Chambers by members of the Sedona City Council.

As most of you are aware, the Pre-council meetings are for the purpose of reviewing agenda items prior to the “real” event, meaning the “real” meeting at 4:30 p.m. is when “real” decisions are made.

At the “real” meeting on May 28, not surprisingly the $20,000 request made by the Sedona Arts & Culture Collaborative (SACC) for destination marketing activities to promote Sedona as a center for arts and culture education was approved. (Mayor Rob Adams, because of his participation in formation of SACC, by his choice recused himself from this discussion.)

Also it was not a surprise when a request from the Sedona Chamber of Commerce for $80,000 in destination marketing funds to be used by the C of C and the Tourism Bureau was likewise approved.

For the first time ever, $100,000 had been designated as a Budget Line Item to be used as a “discretionary fund” and at the eleventh hour fiscal year deadline.

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Peter Fagan, Chairman of the Budget Oversight Commission, said Council eliminating his oversight committee amounted to the “fox watching the hen house”

Was there any doubt that amount would not be reclaimed?

As explained by Jennifer Wesselhoff, President/CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, this $100,000 was in addition to the contract with the city for destination marketing and visitors’ services. She said that, in conjunction with their contract agency application process, C of C requested 55% of the bed tax which equates to just a little over $800,000.

What the C of C receives is $220,000 for destination marketing and $275,000 for visitors’ services. She reiterated it was in addition to that funding the Chamber came back and requested another $100,000which became the source for the discretionary fund Budget Line Item.

Michelle Conway, Director of Marketing at the Sedona C of C, commenced to make an approximate 15 minute presentation explaining the plans for using the increased funding, which included target marketing such as conventions and weddings as well as upgrading software for online promotions.

Councilman John Martinez asked how much of the $220,000 (destination marketing funds) was used for salaries? (He did vote “yes” on this issue.)

Ms. Wesselhoff explained that none of the public money goes to operate any functions of the Chamber of Commerce. She claims her salary is solely derived from C of C membership dues. She went on to say the Tourism Bureau is privately and publicly funded and the Visitor’s Center is funded by City.

However, Michelle’s salary IS primarily derived from the private funding portion of Tourism Bureau funds but subject to being subsidized as, perhaps, is necessary.

Sedona City Councilwoman Barbara Litrell

Sedona City Councilwoman Barbara Litrell

However, in a recent “Chamber News” article (Sedona Red Rock News 5/24/13), Michelle Conway reported that: “The public funds from the city are combined with private funding through Tourism Bureau membership dues and advertising to create a total marketing, sales and public relations budget of approximately $500,000. This total budget includes operational expenses, salaries, and administration, in addition to the actual execution of promoting.”

As both Michelle Conway and Jennifer Wesselhoff presented their cases for the $80,000, it was, in reality, the “same-ole” pitch with a slightly different twist, that being a link with the recent Sedona Lodging Council’s Long Range Tourism Development Plan, referenced by Ms. Wesselhoff in her presentation to the City Council.

These special interest groups have placed demands on the city to increase sales tax by .5% and to increase the bed tax by .5% requesting dedication of 45% of the total bed tax collections be allocated to the City’s Official Destination Marketing Organization for marketing and 15% dedicated to visitor center management and 20% be allocated for tourism product development for as long as this tax is in place in order to reap a more profitable harvest which will allegedly benefit tourists, businesses, and residents and, perhaps, and particularly the special interests doing the bidding.

Never, at any time, was it disclosed that as a member driven organization, the C of C is committed to servicing only businesses who, indeed, are members. Cost of membership dues and or number of members was not offered at this meeting.

Sedona Councilman Mike Ward

Sedona Councilman Mike Ward

Based on that premise, how fair is the use of public funds which clearly discriminates against those businesses who choose to not become members of the Chamber of Commerce? What about C of C members who are not within city limits and thus do not contribute to the city tax base?

Many important questions relating to spending public funds were neither asked nor addressed.

Comments and questions from Council Members & Mayor:

Dan McIlroy: Questioned tracking of numbers resulting in marketing effort. He voted “yes” to approve.

Mark DiNunzio: Questioned using demographics of targeting age 35 and use of youthful photos in ads because of median existing age being 56. He added that “boomers” are now retiring, much older than the age 35 target. Requested specific return on investment insofar as, for example, how many rooms are actually rented as a result of promoting a specific event. He voted “no” to approve

Barbara Litrell: Thinks 35 too old to target for weddings. What is time frame for implementing campaign? When will the $80,000 be spent? She supports “request for proposals” next year. She voted “yes” to approve.

Mike Ward: Questioned current process for C of C to repeatedly appear before Council asking for more money. Feels a lack of process for tracking return on investment (i.e. would $80,000 require generating $560,000 in sales to be worth while?) Feels need for resolve of C of C and Lodging Council’s request for increased taxes prior to approval for spending more. He supports “request for proposals.” He voted “no” to approve.

City of Sedona Mayor Rob Adams

City of Sedona Mayor Rob Adams

Jessica Williamson: Demanding return on investment does not work for her. She believes more money should be spent on software to facilitate better tracking methods. She voted “yes” to approve.

Rob Adams: He criticized Mike Ward, calling it “disgraceful” for his accusation about C of C’s ongoing appearances asking for city “hand outs.” He lauded the C of C for being responsible for bringing in all of the people who sustain Sedona. He extended C of C his total support although he will also support “request for proposals” next year. He voted “yes” to approve.

Motion passed: 5/2 (Opposed: Ward & DiNunzio)

MOVING RIGHT ALONG TO #9, REGULAR BUSINESS (d-AB 1602 discussion/possible action on reconsideration for city to purchase property adjacent to City Hall.):

This property had been one of several under consideration for City to purchase with the available funding from Development Impact Fees. However, it didn’t make the cut for further consideration at the March 26, 2013, Council Meeting.

Addressing the question of how and why this was being reconsidered, Dan McIlroy explained that he’d been contacted by the listing agent, John D. Miller, who convinced him it would be in the city’s best interest to own this land. Therefore, it was at the request of Councilman McIlroy that the vacant land was again on the agenda in order to request further consideration by Council for City purchase.

The motion to approve reconsideration failed 4/3:  (B. Litrell, M. DiNunzio, and D. McIlroy voted “yes.” R. Adams, J. Martinez, M. Ward, and J. Williamson voted “no.”)

theatre curtains 2MOVING RIGHT ALONG TO CITY COUNCIL SPECIAL MEETING May 29 – 3:00 PM:

Special Business Actions:

• AB1531: City Council unanimously approved Amendment #2 to the Design of A+ Upgrades Contract with Carollo Engineers in the amount of $345,588. This will allow for a design project to serve areas presently on sewer but will not allow for future sewer accommodations for the entirety of Sedona.

• AB1612: The discussion regarding staff recommended implementation and action plan for transition of current framework of city commissions also resulted in a 4/3 split vote. The motion, made by Councilwoman Barbara Litrell, was seconded by Vice-Mayor Mark DiNunzio. Council members D. McIlroy, J. Williamson, M. DeNunzio, and B. Litrell voted in favor; voting against that action was Mayor Adams and Councilmen Ward and Martinez.

For the record, Peter Fagan, Chairman of the Budget Oversight Commission, was one of the public speakers. He strongly objected to AB1612, especially the elimination of the BOC, comparing it to allowing “the Fox to guard the hen house.”

Is it possible for that theory to apply in other cases as well, in particular the control the Chamber of Commerce clearly commands over decisions and spending at City Hall?

What does the month of June hold in store?

More meetings; more decisions. Increased taxes?

Approval of a budget lacking adequate funds to pay for the extensive “wish list” of unneeded capital improvements?

Pipe dreams?

How many foxes are out there – not only guarding the hen house also known as City Hall  – but snatching every conceivable opportunity to help themselves for their own pleasures?

For the best in Arizona news and views, read www.SedonaEye.com daily!

For the best in Arizona news and views, read www.SedonaEye.com daily!

201 Comments

  1. Also Sedona Residents says:

    We would like to acknowledge our appreciation to “Sammy the Psychic” for reviving this most interesting article. Very revealing and most assuredly set the pace for the current $2.5+ million this “regional” chamber of commerce receives annually from the City of Sedona. If the “members” of an organized group are allegedly responsible for paying their CEO almost $12,000 monthly, then why in the world are they in need of ANY municipal funding?

    And, yes, we would also like to know why the Directors/Presidents/CEO’s of ALL non-profits weren’t allowed to meet with city staff members to decide the CITY’s annual budget? Meals on Wheels; Humane Societies (all of them in Northern Arizona); Keep Sedona Beautiful; Sedona Recycles (and they, too, expand beyond City Limits with their collection bins placed elsewhere). These are just a few examples of non-profits who most likely are far more beneficial to the public in general than the over-blown importance of a chamber of commerce allowed to run amok!

    And, BTW, we WERE supporters of Vice Mayor John Martinez until we learned of his avid participation and support of the great City of Sedona love affair with a “regional” chamber of commerce. And City Council questioned funding for Verde Valley Caregivers? Maybe it’s time for ALL non-profits to revert to what they had to do before Sedona became a “city.” Rely on funding from their supporters. It worked back then! Why not now?

    BTW – wasn’t it Mike Ward who not too long ago submitted his name to fill a vacancy on the City Council? Well, little wonder he wasn’t appointed! Obviously he was tainted by those in power when he had the good sense to vote “NO” on the C of C rip-off from the beginning! Mark DiNunzio also showed good judgment and common sense. Huh? Common sense? Wha’dat??

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