ALBANY, Ga. — The head of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors and the vice chair of the chamber’s Tourism Committee told reporters Monday that, ultimately, the future of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau rests with the Albany City Commission.
They granted an interview after former Chamber Board member and downtown business owner Phil Cannon released a scathing email critical not only of Chamber President Catherine Glover’s decision to fire former CVB Executive Director Lisa Riddle but of Chamber’s handling of motel-hotel tax dollars.
Chamber Board Chair Judy Randle and Vice Chair for Tourism Chair Bobby McKinney said that they had hoped to move the conversation in a positive and meaningful direction.
“The big picture here is that we want Albany to move ahead in as many ways as it possibly can, and in order for that to happen, we’ve got to come together not only as a community but for those people who have been working so hard in the tourism industry for so many years,” McKinney said.
They each said the CVB is an extension of the city of Albany.
“There’s been talks off and on about the hotel-motel tax, at this time our CVB is under the direction of the Chamber, that’s a decision that’s made by the city,” Randle said. “We’ve been very successful on behalf of the CVB in bringing tourists to Albany. Our numbers are up, the marathon is a success every year, (Albany State University)’s homecoming is a success every year, so at this time we serve at the pleasure of the city.”
Funded by the hotel-motel tax, the CVB exists to promote Albany and increase tourism so that the hotels in the area enjoy more “heads in beds,” as industry professionals put it.
Each year the city doles out half of its $1.2 million in hotel-motel tax revenue to the CVB to cover operating expenses and aid in that mission of promoting Albany.
State law requires that the city can’t act directly as its own tourism agent. Instead, it must give a portion of the hotel-motel tax proceeds to “the state, a department of state government, a state authority, or a private sector nonprofit organization” for promoting tourism, conventions and trade shows.
The Albany-Area Chamber of Commerce is a “private sector nonprofit organization.”
Also at issue is whether public funds (the hotel-motel tax) is going to supplement the salaries of executives at the chamber, as alleged by Cannon in his email.
In response to an Open Records Request filed by the Albany Herald Monday, City Attorney Nathan Davis provided a 2006 management agreement between the city of Albany and the chamber which spells out the hotel-motel tax relationship between the city and the chamber.
Signed by the heads of the two agencies at the time, Tim Martin for the Chamber and Alfred Lott for the City, the agreement states that “these monies will be used soley for the purpose of promoting tourism, conventions and trade shows...CHAMBER recognizes and agrees that it has no rights to any hotel-motel tax monies.”
Randle and McKinney would not say if the hotel-motel tax funds were going directly to salaries of employees or not, but did say that the funds were considered a management fee for services like accounting, marketing, sales and administration.
According to the Chamber’s 2009 tax return — the latest on record — the Chamber generated $1.59 million in total revenue. More than $667,000 came from what was listed as government grants or contributions, with $397,000 coming from member dues.
While it does list President and CEO Catherine Glover’s salary, it doesn’t break the salary down by fund.
Click here to read the Chamber's 2009 tax return.
As to whether the city intends to remove the Chamber and find a new administrator for the hotel-motel tax dollars, City Manager James Taylor would only say Monday that the city was still researching “its options” on the matter.