Out of the loop

Questions arise about MCTA project funds, communication with officials

Other action

At its Wednesday meeting, the Moffat County Tourism Association:

• The board became the first group to look at a new Memorandum of Understanding for Visitor Center funding. It states the Craig Chamber of Commerce and MCTA would each be responsible for 45 percent of Visitor Center costs, and the city of Craig and the county would each pick up 5 percent.

The board decided to table approval until the joint committee on Visitor Center funding could review the agreement together.

"This is a great place to start," Ponikvar said. "But since this seems to affect everybody, I think we should have everybody look at it before we approve anything."

• Set a budget workshop for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss amending the budget after the resignation of former executive director Shelly Flannery and shortfalls in projected lodging tax revenue. The location was set for the Moffat County Courthouse Second Floor Conference Room, but it subject to change.

• Approved $3,000 for the Winter Festival.

— A Moffat County Tourism Association project to put Whittle the Wood Rendezvous carvings around town and establish a tourist walking tour has derailed for logistical reasons.

The $8,000 MCTA appropriated to that project still is in the city budget and the Moffat County Commission wants it back to fund the Moffat County Visitor Center.

Although city and county officials knew about the situation, no one informed the MCTA board until their meeting Wednesday, board members said.

The Craig Chamber of Commerce, which runs Visitor Center operations and subsidizes costs out of its own budget, went to other groups late last year to get an additional $15,000 for extra staffing. The Chamber has secured funding for all but $5,000.

Commissioner Tom Mathers said he understood the $8,000 in walking tour funds could be used to make up the missing $5,000 for the Visitor Center, he told the MCTA board. Mathers attended the meeting in place of Commissioner Saed Tayyara, who serves as MCTA's ex officio.

"It's really nice that (MCTA board members) get lambasted in the newspaper for not following orders and not doing what we need to be doing when people are having these conversations behind our backs," MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker said. "I have a real problem. If I have to stamp my name on where money is going, they should at least be approaching members of this board."

Gene Bilodeau, Craig Chamber of Commerce board member, attended the MCTA meeting because a county commissioner, which he did not name, led him "to believe that MCTA was prepared to come up with the $5,000 left over," he said.

MCTA board members said they had not discussed that possibility with the Commission, and had never been told the city could refund MCTA's $8,000 members say was slated for the walking tour.

Unreserved funds?

The city was first approached by former MCTA Executive Director Shelly Flannery with $8,000 after city officials felt MCTA's $1,250 appropriation for Whittle the Wood was too low, City Manager Jim Ferree said.

MCTA funding policy was to limit appropriations to established events at $500, which was the total initial award, said Dave Pike, city Parks and Recreation Department director.

However, the board awarded another $750 for interactive drumming at Whittle the Wood because it was a new program for last year.

"In eight years, our funding (for Whittle the Wood) has dropped from $5,000 down to $500," Pike said. "You can't do anything with $500 these days."

The drop in MCTA funding has led to advertising cutbacks for the event, Pike said.

"We were spending all of that $5,000 on advertising from MCTA," Ferree added.

At the time, Flannery told Pike not to worry, that she would make up the drop in funds with matching grants, Pike said.

"That never materialized," he said. "Then, out of the blue, Shelly called and said they decided to fund an additional $8,000."

At first, when Shelly called sometime before Whittle the Wood, that money came with no restrictions and there was not a mention of a walking tour project, Pike and Ferree said.

Pike didn't budget the $8,000 for Whittle the Wood last year because he didn't know for sure if the money was coming, he said.

Then, when Flannery and former MCTA board member Mike Crackel came into his office to deliver the check last fall, after Whittle the Wood, they explained their ideas for a walking tour for the first time during a 30-minute meeting, Pike said.

"There was very little communication between MCTA and the city regarding this funding and the restrictions on the funding," Ferree said. "It was this kind of one-on-one deal. It wasn't a very formal process."

That is not accurate, Flannery said. She and Crackel met with Pike in early spring before Whittle the Wood to talk about the walking tour, she added.

"It was always stated that (money) would be going to the walking tour," she said.

How to spend money was always the MCTA board's decision, and Flannery never agreed to any unrestricted funds, she said.

"The board told me about the $8,000 allocation," Flannery said. "It was quite clear when the board moved and approved that, the money would be used for a walking tour and moving statues."

Crackel remembers the same timeline as Flannery, he said. He and Flannery met with Pike face-to-face sometime earlier in the year and then again in the fall to deliver the check.

The two always specified the money was for a walking tour, he said. Crackel remembered Pike gave him and Flannery a list of costs associated with the project, too, he said.

Documents provided by MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker corroborate statements by Crackel and Flannery.

MCTA meeting minutes dated March 1, 2007, show a board vote approving $8,000 "to assist the city of Craig with wood sculpture placement and mapping."

An e-mail from Flannery to the board dated March 7, 2007, notifies board members Flannery and Crackel met with Pike that day to discuss the "Whittle The Wood Sculptures project."

"There weren't any ifs, ands or buts, and I think Pike is trying to pull a fast one, if you ask me," Crackel said. "The board talked about it. I'd been pushing for this project for a long time. They should put those things more centrally located instead of scattered all around."

Pike could not be reached for further comment as of press time.

Why it won't work

One of MCTA's main ideas for the walking tour was to put several woodcarvings along downtown Yampa Avenue.

"Which I really didn't think was a bad idea," Pike said.

But the project was not feasible, Pike said.

For one, there aren't enough woodcarvings in storage to put some downtown. The ones congregating in City Park are award winners, and the city intended to group those together as a central attraction.

For another, installing objects within a highway's right-of-way requires Colorado Department of Transportation approval.

And putting woodcarvings in front of businesses opens another can of worms, Pike said.

"It's always been my philosophy to keep these carvings on public ground," he said. "If we start putting them in front of businesses, then other businesses are going to say, 'We'll why'd you put it there instead of in front of my business?'"

Although Pike liked the idea, the complications prevented him from moving forward.

"It sat on my desk for about a month because I didn't know what to do with it," Pike said.

The city does plan to hire someone to map all the woodcarvings around town and produce a brochure for tourists without relocating any to Yampa Avenue, Pike and Ferree said.

"If they can't do it, they can't do it," Crackel said, "but I think they're missing the boat on this like they missed the boat on a lot of things."

So far, the city has spent about $1,266 on renting a backhoe to relocate some carvings last year, Pike said.

The remaining $6,734 still is in the city's budget. Ferree plans to address the Craig City Council about the money - and the possibility of returning it to the MCTA - at its meeting Jan. 22.

"I think it's safe to say the City Council does want the Visitor Center fully funded," Ferree said.

He plans to recommend the Council approve returning the remaining $6,734 to MCTA, he said.

The MCTA board plans to meet Jan. 23 for a budget workshop and may have a better understanding of its situation then, following the Council meeting.

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