Hogan: City findings validate her concerns | PostIndependent.com

Hogan: City findings validate her concerns

Former tourism marketing director Lori Hogan says she feels a sense of vindication now that city officials are formally requesting answers to questions she raised about the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

“This is like the perfect ending to my leaving here, perfect timing,” Hogan said in an interview Friday after Glenwood Mayor Larry Emery this week voiced the city’s concerns to the chamber in a letter.

Hogan is heading to Jackson Hole, Wyo., to become director of communications for the chamber there. She left the Glenwood chamber earlier this year in what chamber officials have characterized as a resignation. However, Hogan said Friday she was forced to resign. She said she was the key source behind the city’s investigation, and lost her job because she went to the city with her concerns.

In a wide-ranging interview, Hogan also addressed concerns the city has raised about travel expenses charged to the city by the chamber, and said she believes chamber president Marianne Virgili should step down.

“I don’t think she’s really taking these issues seriously,” Hogan said.

In a brief interview Friday, Virgili said she has no plans to resign from her longtime position at the chamber. She said when she does leave, she wants to go out on a positive note, with the city confident in how the chamber is handling the city tourism marketing contract, which is paid for by accommodations tax funds.

“I just wish we would have the chance to sit down with (City) Council and discuss these things,” Virgili said, echoing concerns by chamber board member Martha Cochran that the city conducted a review of the issue without seeking chamber input.

Emery said Virgili’s future employment is a question for the chamber board as her employer to decide, not the city.

Said city manager Jeff Hecksel, “This is not about an individual. This is about the contract. I think the concern for anybody is that a person or a group of persons (might) get villainized for what happened here. I don’t know that’s what’s right.”

Emery said multiple, knowledgeable sources helped the city in its investigation, but he declined to identify them. While not naming names, Cochran suggested that city sources had axes to grind against the chamber.

“Clearly these individuals who have instigated this, I think that clearly that’s their objective,” she said.

“It’s personal, it’s not about business, it’s not about wrongdoing, I don’t think. It’s not about fact. It’s about resentment.”

Cochran said she would not confirm Hogan’s assertion that she was forced to resign. She said the tourism fund issue didn’t have anything to do with Hogan’s resignation. “It was a whole different set of circumstances,” Cochran said.

Hogan said Virgili thinks Hogan has a personal vendetta against her, but that’s not the case.

“All I wanted to see was for the changes to happen and it (tourism marketing) to be run appropriately,” she said.

She thinks the city review’s findings show her concerns were valid.

“At least the city acknowledges that the data is correct,” she said of the information she supplied that raised questions about the chamber’s handling of the contract.

Hogan said she first raised her concerns to the chamber board in 2003, but it failed to adequately address them. She felt obligated to then take the matter to the city.

“I’m still being held accountable from the city’s perspective so they have to know what’s going on with the tax dollars. I just saw that it needed to be addressed and the chamber board didn’t address it,” she said.

She said she was forced to resign for going over the chamber’s head on the issue.

In his letter to the city, Emery said the tourism fund was billed “for significant amounts of travel” by the chamber director and marketing director. He said the city didn’t look into whether the trips were tourism-related.

“However, it became clear that the expenses associated with these trips far exceeded that which would be acceptable for a typical public employee,” he wrote.

The costs included mini bar and in-room movie expenses and expensive meals, the review found. By contrast, city employees can’t bill for alcohol, personal entertainment or meals in excess of a set amount.

Hecksel said he thinks the city assumed incorrectly that the chamber would use public money in a way that reflected the public interest.

“In other words, the city put a higher degree of trust in the chamber than maybe we should have because the rules are different for them than they are for us,” he said.

Cochran said the city’s concerns about inappropriate travel expenses are lacking in specifics, and it was her understanding that the chamber and city already had been working to address what should be appropriately reimbursed for tourism-related travel.

Hogan said Virgili had let her staff rent movies as a benefit.

“But I never did that just because I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Hogan said.

She said she sometimes took travel writers and tour operators out to dinner.

“Certainly in those cases I was entertaining people who would bring business to us,” she said.

A $50 dinner can be a lot cheaper than a $40,000 ad, Hogan said.

She said she never charged drinks to the tourism fund. Also, on business trips to Denver she would stay with family or friends and save money by not eating out, she said.

As for Virgili, “She had a habit of going out to the finest places and wining and dining on the chamber’s dollar, for sure,” Hogan said.

Hogan said she thinks Virgili “was really good in her earlier years of running the chamber,” but more recently “had let things slide.”

When the city increased its accommodations tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent, Virgili “saw dollar signs,” Hogan said.

“The chamber, they’re basically capitalizing on the accommodations tax to keep their doors open,” Hogan said.

Cochran said the chamber is strong and would do fine without the contract, but taking it from the chamber might not be a smart move for the city.

“We just need to get past this so everybody understands where the allegations come from and whether or not there’s any truth to them, and there’s not,” she said.

Glenwood Caverns owner Steve Beckley, a chamber board member who also sits on a new tourism board that is providing oversight of the contract, said he can’t speak to whether the chamber has inappropriately handled funds. He said the tourism board’s only concerns are how the money is spent, and optimizing its use.

“There have been concerns and that’s why this tourism board is working with the chamber, to make sure there is accountability and accounting is done right and we get the best bang for the buck,” he said.

Hogan said she thinks City Council has taken a soft approach to the chamber so far.

While she said she understands the need to move carefully, “I don’t think it’s fair to spank the chamber’s hand and let it go. I think they should be accountable for the money they have basically taken over the years.”

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