Ex-tourism chair takes aim at PHA
The dispute between the City of Penticton and the Penticton Hospitality Association continues to evolve, but indications are it is not getting any closer to a resolution.
Last week the PHA’s legal representative sent a letter to the city asking again for a return of the hotel room tax funds, frozen since city council announced it was breaking the contract with the association.
“They’ve been asked to hand back the money, pending legal action,” said Tim Hodgkinson, operations director for the PHA.
Mayor Garry Litke refused comment on the notice, because it was between lawyers and before the courts.
“We want to have the matter resolved so we can release the money, but it has to be released according to the terms of the contract that was signed with the province,” was all Litke could say.
He was more willing to comment on the resignation of Miranda Halladay, who left both the Tourism Penticton Society and her post as chair of the board.
Litke said she had done an excellent job leading the society.
“She tried very hard to help us resolve the situation,” said Litke.
“But I understand also that people have personal lives and business lives and need to move forward.”
In going, the co-owner of Elephant Island Winery had some harsh words for the Penticton Hospitality Association and the divided state of tourism marketing in Penticton.
In her resignation letter, which she made public, Halladay indicated her decision was due to both increased work at her own business and frustration from lack of progress with the PHA in talks to create a single tourism marketing organization.
In her letter, Halladay also cited concerns the Penticton Hospitality Association was following “a program of stall and delay.”
“It was incredibly frustrating, that feeling of spinning your wheels that ultimately takes its toll,” she said.
“I don’t mind hard work where there is a sense of accomplishment at the end of it.
“If intents were genuine, I think that there would have been a solution. It doesn’t take that long to come up with a reasonable solution.”
PHA representatives said they were not stalling, but claim rather the association was the driving force behind the move to create a single organization.
Although tourism marketing in Penticton has been divided for more than a year, Hodgkinson said work on bringing the two groups together only began mid-year.
“The serious attempt by both sides to look at moving forward to create one society would have started when I was the one that made specific contact with Jessie (Campbell, CEO of Tourism Penticton) and said let’s start putting something together,” he said.
Halladay had other concerns, including an apparent lack of involvement from the PHA board in the discussions, that the only PHA members Tourism Penticton had contact with were Hodgkinson and PHA president Rob Appelman.
“The board are fully involved and up to date with what we do. Completely,” said Hodgkinson.
“We didn’t have any over the summer because everyone is very busy, but we have had meetings every month,” added Appelman.
Another problem, according to Halladay, is that Hodgkinson is not only a paid staff member of the board, but also a voting member, a situation she said was counter to any good governance model she had been involved with.
The PHA seems to just operate on their own terms,” said Halladay. “No one questions what is driving their decision making process.”
Appelman said having a staff member on the board shouldn’t be an issue.
“It says right in our bylaws that we can hire anyone we feel is qualified to do the day to day operations,” said Appelman.
Hodgkinson added that the PHA sought legal advice before hiring him in order to put the correct checks and balances in place so there wouldn’t be any actual or perceived conflict of interest.
The PHA felt it was necessary for him to be on the board, Hodgkinson said, because of clauses in the contract with the City of Penticton to handle the additional hotel room tax funds.
“The city we knew at that point the city had every intention of making sure the PHA was forced to spending that money with Tourism Penticton. If you read in the contract, there is a point in it about using third party suppliers,” said Hodgkinson.
“In order to fill the role successfully, for the PHA and for me to be able to help and assist it was absolutely necessary that I was part of the voting process.”
However, Hodgkinson contends that to avoid conflict with his role as operations director he doesn’t vote on marketing issues, and only presents information to the board to make decisions on.
But Hodgkinson and Appelman said the only real issue is resolving the contract dispute with the city, which started at the end of October, when the city announced the PHA was in breach of the obligations spelled out in a five-year contract signed with the city in July 2012 giving them control over the approximately $400,000 for tourism marketing collected annually via the hotel room tax.
“People keep side-stepping things,” said Hodgkinson.
“With us, what takes precedence is this attempt at termination and the legal ramifications of that.”