City tightens, clarifies Chamber of Commerce contracts

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By Nick Nunn staff writer

The Madison City Council discussed two contracts between the city and the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce that will come up for a vote during the upcoming regular meeting of the council on June 9. The first contract discussed was the hotel/motel contract for fiscal year (FY) 2015. Under the hotel/motel contract the city would agree to grant the Chamber of Commerce a sum of 45 percent of the previous year’s hotel/motel tax, with the minimum amount granted equaling $88,500. In exchange for the grant, the Chamber agrees that it will expend the funds “for the purpose of tourism” and “solely for the benefit of the City of Madison.” Furthermore, the contract requires that the Chamber employs a full-time Tourism Director, who is required to “administer, initiate and monitor all advertising/marketing campaigns for the City of Madison,” and that the Tourism Director attend tourism trainings and be an “active member” in developing tourism and promoting Madison as a “leisure and group travel destination, convention and meeting location, and a cultural heritage center of the Southeast region.”

The hotel/motel contract would require that a staffed welcome center serve as an “outlet for promotional materials and a place to help with information about activities in Madison-Morgan County” as well as providing a restroom to the public. The center is also to be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Chamber will be responsible for providing monthly audit reports, including a line item expense report, to the city, as well as a “Detailed Annual Report” listing each item funded by the use of hotel/motel tax. Council Member Chris Hodges asked if there is a statewide set of training requirements for tourism directors and expressed her concern that someone could be hired without possessing a base level of training for the position.

Madison Main Street Director Ann Huff stated that there is not a set of requirements but added that the state does offer many training opportunities and that training is “very important” for tourism directors. “All of your front-line people should be going to training,” said Huff. Bob Hughes, president of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Director, stated that the Chamber will look for the most qualified applicants to fill any positions at the Chamber. “You’re going to look for the most qualified person to fill the position,” said Hughes. The proposed FY 2015 hotel/motel contract also includes revised language regarding conflicts of interest.

Previously, the contract stated that “no employee of a recipient or his/her family member may hold a position in, or own a 10 percent or more stock or partnership or membership interest in any for-profit entity, the business of which could be construed as a possible conflict of interest with those activities being promoted by the recipient, or in any way profit monetarily in a sum exceeding $100 per year from any project in which the recipient may be involved.” The revised version includes amended language, noting an increase in the amount of interest a party may own from 10 percent to 25 percent, and an increase for the maximum profit from $100 per year to $800 per year.

City Attorney Joe Reitman stated that the proposed changes to the section would clean up the language, making it “consistent with state law,” and that the value increases still represent a “fair and appropriate threshold.” Council Member Joe DiLetto stated that the $800 limit might still be low, and Reitman suggested that they could increase the limit further to $2,500, which would represent a “middle ground” with the state policy, which is $5,000. Council Member Chris Hodges supported making the limit $2,500, suggesting that it be the limit “across the board.” The second contract discussed by the council was the economic development contract for FY 2015, which, according to Reitman, has undergone no revision this year.

The economic development contract states that the city will grant the Chamber $37,000 as long as the funds are spent “solely for the benefit of City residents and only as follows: Advancing economic development.” The council also looked at revised grant contracts for the African-American Museum, the Cultural Center, and the Historical Society.

For each grant contract, the city offers $8,000 to each of the organizations in order to “provide assistance to organizations that promote Madison’s history and culture to tourists and reinforce the cultural heritage tourism infrastructure.” Each organization would be required to submit quarterly reports, showing that the funds were used to promote tourism, as well as an annual report.

The facilities will have to be open for a minimum of 30 hours per week from March to December, and a minimum of 20 hours per week in January and February, with all hours being published on a brochure or rack card, which will be displayed at the welcome center. Additionally, directors and staff members from the organizations will be required to “meet with city officials and public historians to develop and enhance the tourist attraction’s script that is designed for tourist education.” The grant contracts for the African-American Museum, the Cultural Center, and the Historical Society also include the revised conflict of interest section that will be included in the hotel/motel contract between Madison and the Chamber of Commerce.

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