Planning by committee
CAPC opts not to hire special events coordinator

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission isn’t currently hiring a special events coordinator.

At the commission’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27, a discussion about the 2021 budget ended with a motion to wait to hire a special events coordinator and to form a committee to address special events in the meantime. Commissioner Melissa Greene kicked off the discussion about the budget, saying the commission shouldn’t have approved its 2021 budget in November 2020.

Tracy Johnson

“I don’t think anybody did it maliciously. I don’t think presenting it was a bad thing,” Greene said. “It just should have waited to be approved.”

Approving the budget before January, Greene said, “muddied the waters” regarding special events coordinator Tracy Johnson, whose contract ended on Jan. 31. Interim director Gina Rambo said at the commission’s Jan. 13 workshop that she believed Johnson was transitioning from contract to full-time work, while chairwoman Carol Wright said the commission never voted to hire Johnson for the full-time special events coordinator position. The commission voted at a special called meeting on Jan. 20 to pay Johnson as a contractor from Jan. 1 through 31.

At the commission’s Jan. 27 meeting, Greene said she wanted to clear that up and moved to “review, change or accept and pass the 2021 budget as soon as we can.” Commissioner Harry Meyer suggested operating on the 2020 budget until the 2021 budget is approved, and finance director Rick Bright said the commission can’t spend money from the previous year’s budget in the current fiscal year.

“That’s why we actually do the budget before the first of the year, because you’re spending money that hasn’t been allocated,” Bright said.

Commissioner James DeVito said the commission can vote to approve the 2021 budget without any changes, saying the commission can revise the budget later in the year when it’s necessary to do so.

“If we’re going to just approve this budget, we might as well look right down the list and make some changes right now,” Meyer said.

“The budget can be changed any time we’re willing to vote on it,” DeVito said.

“We’re here,” Meyer said.

DeVito said the commission needed to approve the budget by Feb. 1, which was four days away. Commissioner Jeff Carter then moved to “not actually hire anybody for events at this time but that we put together a committee.”

Carter said that committee would put together a plan for events moving forward. Commissioner Bobbie Foster said she didn’t want to give her decision-making ability to a committee.

“If anyone sitting here tonight does not feel like they can make that decision, they might want to re-evaluate why they’re sitting on this commission to start with,” Foster said. “Furthermore, when I voted to put [Rambo] in the interim director position, I did it with full belief that she would be the interim director.”

Foster said she believed Rambo’s duties include hiring and firing employees.

“So I would like to make a motion that we allow [Rambo] to do her job and that we give her full capability to hire and fire the staff of the CAPC office,” Foster said.

Wright said there was already a motion on the floor and Carter restated the motion, saying the committee could meet multiple times in a week and should include a representative of the mayor’s office. The committee would bring recommendations to the commission, Carter said, which the commission would vote on.

Greene said she supported the committee. She has heard “a horrible amount of misinformation on social media” about the commission’s plans regarding events, Greene said.

“Not one person at this table is against events,” Greene said. “What we’re trying to do is get through this pandemic and find out the best way to spend our money.”

Meyer said the commission is restricted on how it can hold events because of COVID-19.

“Right now, due to COVID there are very specific restrictions on events and gatherings of more than 10 people, so this isn’t about personalities,” Meyer said. “This is about a pandemic. That’s all we’re talking about.”

DeVito said there aren’t as many volunteers for events as in the past.

“We have a staff of one person for events,” DeVito said. “One person cannot put on events.”

Carter again restated his motion and Foster said the committee couldn’t make those decisions any faster than the commission can make them.

“The committee won’t make any decisions,” Carter said.

“But you did say you feel like the committee could make these decisions faster,” Foster said. “It’s our job to do it. I do not feel like in this instance we need an outside committee to help us make this decision.”

Commissioner Greg Moon agreed with Foster. The commission then voted, with Green, DeVito and Carter voting yes and Foster, Meyer and Moon voting no. Wright voted yes to break the tie, establishing the committee. Meyer then said the commission doesn’t “even know what the committee is going to be made of” and Carter suggested including three commissioners. DeVito and Greene volunteered themselves for the committee and Greene suggested that CAPC staff member Karen Pryor join the committee as a representative of the CAPC office.

“I’d have to think about it,” Pryor said.

Carter moved to appoint three commissioners, a representative from the mayor’s office and a CAPC staff member to the committee. Carter, Greene and DeVito voted yes, while Meyer, Foster and Moon voted no. Wright voted yes to break the tie.

The commission then heard from Johnson about the Fat Tire Festival. Johnson said she had planned to hold the festival at the Great Passion Play, saying the plan has already been submitted. She expects that plan to be approved by the CDC and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Johnson said.

“My main focus on Fat Tire is something that’s never been done before. My mission this year was to make sure every mountain biker … knows about downtown,” Johnson said.

Johnson said mountain biking is a multimillion dollar industry, yet 75 percent of mountain bikers never venture downtown.

“That’s why it’s at Passion Play right now,” Johnson said. “We can’t do things in our Basin Park. I need those riders to be downtown.”

Johnson added that she loves Eureka Springs.

“I hope that whatever the committee does moving forward does not let us down, because I can tell you I’m having a hard time letting go of the possible failure of future events,” Johnson said.

“Our agenda was about the Fat Tire event,” Wright said. “Do you have anything else to say about that event?”

“No, and I won’t share with you any of the other incredible economic development issues I’m in the middle of that could literally change the face of our town,” Johnson said.

Earlier at the meeting, the commission heard from several citizens about the state of special events. Beau Satori said he was concerned that the city doesn’t have any special events for 2021 and said Johnson got the city through the Folk Festival in 2020.

“That may be all we have this year: Folk Festival and Christmas,” Satori said.

Satori called for Wright to resign from her role, saying she has created an “adversarial relationship with the staff.”

“I think as chairman, she’s out of control with what the commission likes,” Satori said. “She acts outside of her role and … I would like for you not to nominate her for chairman again.”

City council member Autumn Slane said she’d like to see more transparency in the commission.

“It’s just a complete breakdown of trust,” Slane said. “That’s where we’re at.”

Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce director Mike Seals said the city had a better year in 2020 than many expected, but the businesses along the highway suffered more than the downtown businesses.

“The highway businesses are much more dependent on events and festivals and parades,” Seals said. “From a Chamber of Commerce perspective, we have embraced the idea of only canceling something as a last resort. Look for a variation or a creative way of doing something along the same lines that meets the requirements and restrictions.”

Seals said the chamber held the Antique Auto Festival 49.5 instead of the 50th annual festival. The chamber also held a stationary Christmas parade, Seals said, instead of the regular parade.

“Don’t cancel,” Seals said. “Come up with a creative alternative to events, parades and festivals.”

Council member LauraJo Smole said she’s concerned with seeing the “airing of laundry on social media from various staff and CAPC members.” Smole said she’s heard concerns that the commission is bringing in groups that “violated state standards.”

“The citizens I hear from are the ones concerned these are the people bringing in COVID in some cases and it spreads through the local community,” Smole said. “They’d like to see a happy medium … that still maintains safety and protects our community.”

Jack Moyer, general manager and executive vice president of the Crescent and Basin Park hotels, said it’s “foolish” to think there are no events going on in Eureka Springs.

“I produce events. People around the table produce events, and this community has produced events wholly,” Moyer said. “By sending a message that the city does not do events, you’re really sending the message that the city cannot do events or cannot do events safely with the appropriate protocols. It’s poor messaging and it’s the wrong direction.”

Local musician Opal Agafia said she’s been part of several events that are safe during the pandemic.

“My brother is a paramedic and his wife is an ER nurse. I would not do anything to make their jobs harder,” Agafia said. “There are ways for us to do it.”

Agafia said she wanted the special events committee to be proactive and find ways to hold events safely.

“I don’t want it to be a cop-out to waste more time,” Agafia said. “I really hope you know the value of special events.”

Pryor then spoke during staff reports, delivering a pre-written message. Pryor said she started working for the CAPC in 2005 and has been a representative of the city in every position she’s held.

“I always thought I had the best job in the world,” Pryor said. “I’ve seen great people come and go. I’ve seen people go who frankly should have gone. Unfortunately, I’ve seen some great people go in dramatic ways simply because they dared to try and make a difference.”

Pryor said she is “deeply saddened, sometimes appalled” at the current state of affairs at the CAPC. The businesses in Eureka Springs expect the commission to work as a group to allocate funds to bring guests to town, Pryor said.

“That should be your main focus. The staff expects you to be supportive and helpful,” Pryor said. “The staff expects positive interaction and encouragement.”

During the past 18 months, Pryor said, she’s noticed a disconnect between the commission and the staff.

“We have been lied to. We have been bullied. We have had our jobs threatened because of vicious gossip and innuendo,” Pryor said. “We have endured manipulation and false accusations. Some have even attempted to pit us against each other, and yet we still come to work every day and try to do the jobs that we have been hired to do.”

When Pryor was done speaking, Meyer replaced his mic which he had removed halfway through her speech.

“I thought it was a report, not a lecture,” Meyer said.

Also at the meeting, Wright said that the commission has a seat filled by someone who is not currently employed at hotel or a restaurant.

“We’ve been hopeful that he would be able to go back to his position or have another, but we are going to talk about vacating the seat, which means the seat would just become open for someone else to apply and the person in the seat may stay in that seat until and when we as a commission would decide to put another person in that place,” Wright said.

Foster asked whose position Wright was talking about, and Wright said she was talking about Moon. Meyer then moved to declare a vacancy and Moon said he was furloughed because of COVID-19. He had a letter to prove it, Moon said. Meyer said he had a copy of the letter, which states that Moon is “placed on a leave of absence from the Rowdy Beaver.” The letter is dated Oct. 9, 2020.

Meyer said he called the Rowdy Beaver and asked Moon if he was the general manager. Moon said he was the manager and Meyer said he spoke with someone who said she is the manager. Moon said the person Meyer spoke to is the assistant manager.

“When I asked her if you worked there, she said no,” Meyer said.

“That’s not true,” Moon said. “I talked to her. She did not give out any information.”

“So you’re insisting you’re employed?” Meyer asked.

“I’m not employed,” Moon said. “I’m on a leave of absence. I was told by the office that was OK.”

Moon said he’s happy to vacate the seat if someone else wants it. He then addressed Wright and said she has “done nothing but call my work from day one and done nothing but ask if I’m employed.”

“This has been an act on you to get me off of here because you don’t like the way I vote,” Moon said to Wright.

“Oh, come on,” Meyer said.

“No, that’s the honest-to-God truth,” Moon said. “She is a harassing person and she knows it and I have proof of it.”

The commission voted to vacate Moon’s spot, with DeVito, Meyer and Carter voting yes and Foster and Moon voting no. Greene abstained and DeVito said the vote was 3-2.

“So the position of commissioner that [Moon] is currently sitting in is vacated,” Wright said. “He is able to stay in that seat and vote until the commission finds another commissioner.”

Greene said Wright was the fourth vote to approve the motion, but Wright never actually voted yes.

In other business, the commission voted to approve the 2021 budget. The commission then appointed Carter as chairman and Wright as secretary treasurer for 2021.

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 10, after its regular workshop in the Auditorium.

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