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City ends inquiry

Muddy contract language has brought an end to a city investigation into possible overbilling by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.The city has withdrawn its request for more information about the chamber’s handling of a $500,000-a-year tourism promotion contract with the city.”Both parties acknowledge that differing expectations under the current contract led to this contract dispute,” the city and chamber said in a joint statement released Friday.The investigation’s outcome pleased chamber board member Martha Cochran, who has been critical of the way the city handled its investigation.”The chamber board was confident all along nothing was wrong, so that’s why we’ve been rather outraged by it,” she said.In a Sept. 20 letter to the chamber, Mayor Larry Emery said the city’s investigation indicated the chamber may have overbilled the city by $86,000 by claiming reimbursement for visitor guide mailings without being able to document that they had been sent. The letter also suggested that the chamber may have lifted names from mailing databases of magazines it advertised in and used them to bill the city for mailed guides.The chamber said the city’s analysis of chamber postal records was in error, and bulk mailing data showed that it sent out more guides than the city concluded, and underbilled rather than overbilled the city. Chamber officials said the city could have gotten satisfactory answers to the billing issue and other concerns had it conferred with the chamber before Emery’s letter was issued.In retrospect, City Council member Joe O’Donnell agrees.”I think we should have probably dug further into our investigation before we went public on that letter,” he said.O’Donnell felt a written chamber response to Emery’s letter answered a lot of the city’s concerns.”They kind of explained a lot of it, not to Emery’s satisfaction but to mine,” he said.He believes there was no overbilling.”The chamber had used bulk mail a lot more than the city realized” to issue tourism guides, O’Donnell said.Besides, the contract language between the city and chamber, which dates back to 2001, doesn’t spell out the “fulfillment” agreement under which the chamber gets reimbursed under the contract, he said.Emery’s understanding is that the chamber should be reimbursed based on guides sent out, at $3 per guide. The chamber has contended that fulfillment applies to other contacts with the public as well, such as through special events, trade shows, Web site inquiries and the like.O’Donnell said the contract language doesn’t support how the city was defining fulfillment.”There is nothing in the contract about the word ‘fulfillment.’ The chamber had the right to define fulfillment any way they wanted,” he said.Emery said he thinks overbilling can’t be proven or disproven, and loose contract language meant there was little point in continuing an investigation. “I feel that we got as much of an answer as we were going to get. I think if it moved forward we weren’t going to get any more of an answer than we already had. Based on the wording of the contract, we really had nowhere to go.”Both city and chamber officials agree that next year’s contract needs to be tightened up to help avoid future disputes.”I think that there were problems on this contract on both sides. There were a lot of misunderstandings on both sides of what the contract meant, and that’s why we got involved with this to begin with,” O’Donnell said.He believes language regarding travel reimbursements also is loose. The city was concerned about possibly extravagant travel claims by the chamber, but the chamber maintained it followed the city’s own reimbursement requirements.Tightening the contract language is important to Emery, who has been the leading voice on council for improving the chamber’s accountability regarding the contract. His service on council and as mayor ends at the end of this month because he decided against seeking another council term.”I think that what needed to happen happened, that we did a thorough investigation, we found that there were shortcomings in the contract and that the contract will be modified appropriately,” he said.Said Cochran, “I think certainly the clearer it is, the better it is for all parties involved, so it’s a good time to sit down and look at it.”But she also thinks the city should have apologized for how it handled the investigation.O’Donnell, Emery and fellow council member Bruce Christensen all said no apology is necessary. They said the city had a fiscal responsibility to conduct the investigation that it did. O’Donnell noted that the city was responding to allegations by two ex-employees of the chamber.”The city doesn’t owe anybody an apology. An allegation was made that was very serious. The city had an obligation to investigate and they did and we resolved the issue,” he said.Emery said the city gathered information in an appropriate manner.”Once we had questions, the only appropriate thing was to ask for written, documented answers,” he said.Cochran said the chamber agrees the city had a responsibility to look into the contract concerns. But she said it didn’t need to publicly release a letter making damaging allegations.”We just wish that could have been avoided and we could have sat down and dealt with it,” she said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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