Bill Geist, consultant with Zeitgeist Consulting, gave his final recommendation on Shawnee’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau at a special joint meeting held Monday.
Geist recommended to members of the Shawnee City Commission, the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Tourism Advisory Committee the CVB should be privatized and evolve into an independent 501 (c)(6) not-for-profit agency.
The other two models Geist presented were the CVB remain under the current leadership of the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce or the CVB be run and governed by the City of Shawnee. Geist presented pros and cons for all three models, ultimately recommending the CVB become privatized.
“What works for one destination doesn’t necessarily work for another,” he said.
Geist spent several days in Shawnee in August and Geist said they spent a number of days in face-to-face interviews with key community leaders and met with the Tourism Advisory Committee and asked each person his or her opinion on the issue.
“There’s been a sense of turmoil, a sense of questions, a sense of uncertainty of whether it’s the right structure, whether it’s the right people, whether it’s the right mission; all that kind of stuff has just been playing out,” Geist said.
He said the opinion of the CVB from community members was mixed in the sense that some fully support the CVB and have a good understanding of how things are run, while other were left confused on the budget and unaware of CVB operations.
“We wanted to talk to the business community on what their thoughts were,” Geist said.
The number one concern from those in the community was issues with the budget, Geist said, and the ability to understand it because of mislabeling of items.
“I think that unfortunately some of the titles given to some of the line items made it look like it was ‘loosey goosey’ but frankly I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.
He said one of the concerns presented that initiated the organizational audit was the question of whether or not CVB funds were going to pay for Chamber projects.
The Chamber of Commerce charges the CVB a $40,000 ‘management fee’ that covers bookkeeping services, shared phone/copier expenses and insurance, which Geist said they found to add up to roughly $15,000 per year. Geist said the other $25,000 is allocated to 30 percent the Chamber CEO’s salary and payroll taxes, and Geist said the Chamber CEO spent at least 30 percent of her time on CVB business. However, he said even if she didn’t spend any time on CVB business, the Bureau is getting office space at no charge as a ‘value add’ for the Management fee. If the CVB was independent from the Chamber, its rent would likely be in the $25,000 range, he said.
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“It looks fairly typical of a budget of about a half a million dollars,” Geist said.
In reviewing past budgets, Geist said it appears as if the formatting of some line items was based upon a standard template from a software program like QuickBooks, causing some of the confusion. He said there are some items being referred to as ‘unallocated’ when in reality, the items are for unforeseen opportunities and are not to be called unallocated.
“In talking with the community, generally good feeling about the Bureau, good feeling about the direction it’s going,” he said.
Geist said his recommendation to privatize the Bureau comes with a series of conditions. Those include:
• The city must agree to maintain the current deployment of Hotel Occupancy Surcharge revenues to the Shawnee CVB
• The city must allow the Board of Directors of the Shawnee CVB to be self-nominated, with only a handful of appointed seats.
• The contract between the city and an independent Shawnee CVB must be exceptionally clear in expectations.
• The contract between the city and independent Shawnee CVB must be multi-year in nature.
• The chamber must agree to convey all client and consumer databases, technology, research and other soft assets of the Shawnee CVB to the independent bureau.
• The CVB should be allowed to remain housed within the Chamber of Commerce offices until such time the CVB Board of Directors believes it can be effectively moved to more advantageous space (for a term not to exceed three years).
•The city must agree to not legislate business management practices of an independent Shawnee CVB.
Nancy Keith, president and CEO of the Greater Shawnee Chamber, said the chamber is open for any recommendation that benefits the community.
“While the CVB has flourished under the chamber, if the Tourism Advisory Committee, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Shawnee City Commission thinks it will do better on its own, then it’s time,” she said.
Keith added that the chamber has been the CVB parent organization.
“That’s what parents do,” she said. “They help until it’s time to send them off on their own.”
Kinlee Farris, Executive Director of the CVB, said it’s her passion to sell Shawnee to visitors and is excited about what the future holds moving forward, no matter what direction everyone decides to move toward.
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“It’s going to be a give and take solution and won’t happen overnight,” she said.
Mayor Wes Mainord said the recommendation was ‘interesting’ and he is also excited to see Shawnee grow as changes are made to the CVB.
“We will do whatever is best for Shawnee,” he said.