The waters surrounding the dispute over tourism funding in Penticton keep getting muddier.
The Penticton Hospitality Association contends the city should have been aware that they were close to a deal with Tourism Penticton to create a single organization, making city council’s decision to void the PHA’s contract to manage the approximate $400,000 collected through the two per cent additional hotel room tax especially ill-timed.
Chuck Loewen, Penticton’s general manager for recreation services and the city’s representative on the Tourism Penticton board, maintains he had no information about the progress of talks.
The executive itself was not involved in those negotiations,” said Loewen, explaining that the talks were being conducted by Tourism Penticton chair Miranda Halladay, vice chair Sally Pierce, their counterparts from the PHA and facilitator Ingrid Jarrett.
“It was done that way to keep it very close and concise and to ensure that things wouldn’t go off track and to keep the whole notion of mediation and working towards one organization,” said Loewen. “The rest of the executive and board actually were not privy to the conversations that were going on.”
However a copy of the Oct. 16 minutes for Tourism Penticton show PHA chair Rob Appelman delivering a report to the board on the talks.
“Director Rob Appelman overviewed that both the PHA and Tourism Penticton have agreed on a proposal from industry facilitator Ingrid Jarrett and that it will be paid for jointly,” reads the minutes.
Appelman said at this point, the talks had been going on for months, and several models for the proposed organization had been brought up. The two sides had agreed, and Jarrett was being contracted to develop a “best practices” model for Penticton.
“Ingrid’s role at this point was to really dot the i’s and cross the t’s. There was no doubt whatsoever in this meeting that this was a green light. This was an agreement to pay her for the final bit, where she was going to come back and present the final model to us and Tourism,” said PHA director Tim Hodgkinson.
“His (Loewen’s) role as city representative is to report to the city on all issues relating to tourism. Particular things of such importance.”
Loewen agreed everyone involved felt it would be better to have one unified marketing force rather two separate organizations, but that he had no information about how close an agreement was to pass back to the city in his role as it’s representative to the board.
“We were nowhere near coming together as one force, my understanding was. Nowhere near it,” he said. He remembers the presentation differently and said it wasn’t clear what stage the negotiations were at.
“What this was, if I recall, was a proposal from Ingrid (Jarrett, facilitator) for a financial contract to continue on with negotiations for one entity. There was no proposal on how it would look. It was just to continue on with Ingrid on a contractural basis,” said Loewen.
“It was nowhere near coming to fruition.”
The move to create one organization came out of talks between the two groups to work collaboratively on destination marketing programs into the fall of 2013 and 2014, which Loewen said led into talks and meditation about a potential single organization. At the same time, the city was in ongoing discussions and eventual mediation with the PHA.
“The city of Penticton had been asking the PHA for a number of months for the proper financials and the documentation to show what has been done with the monies and it hadn’t been forthcoming,” said Loewen.
For their part, Appelman and Hodgkinson say the city has been trying to get the hotel room tax funding back for more than a year, calling their tactics harassing. The decision to strip the group of the hotel room tax funding, they say, was made just two weeks after the city received audited financial statements that showed the group was spending the funds in accordance with the agreement.
“The city never wanted control of the money, they just wanted to make sure the money was spent in an appropriate fashion for destination marketing,” said Loewen, adding that it didn’t matter who was doing it. “Our goal, from the city standpoint, and from Tourism Penticton standpoint, was always to have it through one organization. It didn’t matter who controlled the dollars, as long as it was administered collaboratively through one organization.”
Hodgkinson suggests the best thing for the city to do at this point would be to follow the public recommendation made by the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce that the city reverse its decision.
If the city continues on this track, Hodgkinson said the PHA is lining up their legal defense.
“What the city is doing is flying in the face of opinion and that of the business community.We all just need to get on with what we are doing, which was successful,” said Hodgkinson.