City, chamber may be close to resolving dispute
Post Independent Staff
Joint discussions may be leading to a resolution of concerns by the city about the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s handling of a $500,000 tourism promotion contract.
Representatives of the city and chamber have met and the two sides are working on a possible joint statement aimed at clearing up differences over the contract’s handling by the chamber.
“I feel really confident that we’re really close to being in agreement on everything,” said Glenwood Springs City Council member Bruce Christensen, who joined in a recent meeting between city and chamber officials to work through the concerns.
City manager Jeff Hecksel said attorneys with the city and chamber are continuing to discuss the matter.
In September, Mayor Larry Emery signed a letter to the chamber saying that a city investigation found the chamber appeared to have overbilled the city by $86,000 for services provided under the contract. The work is funded by a city lodging tax.
Emery’s letter suggested that some of the overbilling may have been intentional ” that the chamber obtained reimbursements from the city in cases of people who hadn’t asked for or received tourism information, but whose names appeared on mailing lists of publications in which the chamber had advertised.
Among other concerns, Emery wrote that it appeared the chamber had filed for unauthorized travel expenses.
Chamber officials have vehemently denied the allegations. They say the city’s investigation was based on misinformation and concerns could have been cleared up before Emery wrote his letter, had the chamber been consulted.
In a Sept. 30 response to Emery’s letter, chamber board president Fred Wall wrote, “The Chamber Board questions the protocol in which a letter goes on public record without first substantiating claims or asking questions.”
The city contends that the chamber can’t account in its postal records for some of the tourism magazines it has sent out, and for which it receives a reimbursement of $3 apiece from the city. But the chamber maintains the city is misinterpreting the postal records. It also argues that the “fulfillment” reimbursement applies not only to receipt of magazines by potential tourists but other interactions involving the public such as Web site inquiries, trade show visits and special event participation.
In his letter, Wall said the tourism marketing director obtained a competitive bid for fulfillment in 2002 that came in at $7 per contact. That would have resulted in a cost of $91,530 to the city, excluding postage, compared to the $34,400 that was allocated to the chamber, he wrote.
“We believe this shows the value of the Chamber providing this service. We have not been over billing or trying to obtain funds that are not entitled to us, but we instead have gone above and beyond.”
A joint meeting between the chamber board and City Council had been scheduled to take place Wednesday. However, it was canceled after a private meeting between some chamber representatives, Hecksel, Christensen, fellow City Council member Joe O’Donnell and city attorney Karl Hanlon. Emery has been out of town.
Following that meeting, the chamber and city decided the joint meeting between the chamber and council would be premature and nonproductive, Hecksel said.
He said he expects council will address the matter at some point in a public session.
However, it isn’t on the agenda for tonight’s council meeting. That’s the last scheduled council meeting for Emery, who didn’t run for re-election and whose term expires after the Nov. 1 election. Emery has been leading the push on council to have the city take a closer look at the contract. Council voted earlier this year to put the 2007 contract out for bid, rather than automatically awarding it to the chamber.
Christensen said he hopes the dispute with the chamber can be resolved before Emery and fellow council member Dan Richardson leave office at the end of the month. Richardson serves as council’s representative on the chamber board.
Christensen said it would be unfair to new council members if the matter wasn’t resolved before they took office, since they haven’t been involved with it.
“I think we’re gonna get there. We’re making good progress,” Christensen said.
He called the meeting between chamber and city officials “extremely productive” and said he thinks the chamber has been adequately answering questions that have been raised.
“We were both able to clarify a number of things,” he said. “Hopefully that’s the first step in moving forward.”
However, Christensen noted that council as a whole hasn’t had a chance to review the matter.
He said the intent of the joint statement would be to answer questions the public may have about the issues the city has raised.
City officials have previously indicated that if overbilling did occur, the city might take action to try to recover funds.
“I don’t think that’s where we are at this point,” Christensen said.
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