Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva submitted a notice to terminate the $249,253 contract with the City of Turlock regarding the Convention and Visitors Bureau on Tuesday.
CVB, which was ran by the Chamber of Commerce, is charged with marketing for the community with the goal of making the city a more attractive place for potential visitors as a means of bringing in outside dollars. Per the City, the goal of the program is increased convention sales, tourism marketing and services.
Turlock City Council was scheduled to vote on an action item to begin a 90-day termination of the contract and opening a competitive process to reward marketing and tourism services for the City of Turlock.
"I met with the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce today and we had a very frank, productive, and positive conversation,” said Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth in a statement. “I applaud them for two decades of marketing service for the City and continue to encourage them to compete for the contract."
If the item had been approved on Tuesday night by a majority vote, the CVB management contract between the City of Turlock and Chamber of Commerce was to be terminated in 90 days from the vote, on May 3 of this year.
The vote never took place, as Silva, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s Council meeting, notified the City that the Chamber would terminate the contract, following a meeting on Tuesday with City Manager Roy Wasden, City Attorney Phaedra Norton and Mayor Soiseth.
“After a lot of soul searching, the Chamber Executive Board has made the decision that we would move forward and give the 90-day notice, saving you a lot of trouble to move forward with your RFP for the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” said Silva on Tuesday night.
On Nov. 18, 2014, the then-Council, which included former Turlock Mayor John Lazar and former Councilmember Forrest White, approved the CVB contract on a 4-1 vote on Nov. 18. The adoption of the budget devoted Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) dollars, the additional tax on hotel and lodging services, to CVB services and activities.
Some councilmembers had concerns over lack of statistics presented at the Nov. 18, 2014 meeting, when the contract was initially approved. Councilmember Amy Bublak, who casted the lone dissenting vote on Nov. 18, asked for statistics before she approved the nearly $250,000 contract.
“If I’m supposed to represent the public at large, I need to let them know that I wouldn’t spend $250,000 of my own personal money, or theirs, without knowing what I’m getting for it,” said Bublak in November. “I’m sure that they can give us that information…but it’s not here…that’s my only concern.”
Councilmember Bill DeHart also had concerns over the lack of statistics, however he ultimately approved the contract. Council approved the contract on a 4-1 vote, with the stipulation, as moved by Councilmember Steven Nascimento, that the Chamber would need to provide requested statistics within six months of the approved contract.
Soiseth then directed Council to revisit the contract at the Feb. 10 meeting, with the hopes of allowing the Chamber to show requested statistics in a possible bid.
Despite terminating the contract following Tuesday’s meeting, Silva was grateful for all of the time she has spent working with the City of Turlock over the past two decades of managing the CVB.
“I want you to know what a privilege it has been over the last 20-plus years, since 1991, that the Turlock Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with the City of Turlock to administrate the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” said Silva at Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Although the Chamber terminated the contract, City Council still voted to unanimously approve a motion to direct staff to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to manage the CVB. However, at this time it is unknown what direction staff will be taking.
Nascimento asked Tuesday that there be a clear direction with the CVB going forward and staff clearly define duties before the RFP is issued.
“I think sometimes in the past the CVB has been criticized for doing certain things they were never directed to do,” said Nascimento. “They’re focused on conventions and bringing people into our hotels — that’s what we told them to do — but they were being criticized for not, you know, being more cheerleaders for the community."
Wasden said staff would take approximately 30 days to create RFP, followed by 30 days to accept competitive bids and the final 30 days to choose who will be the next to manage the CVB. The RFP could ultimately split up services, such as social media and events, to different companies.
Whatever direction staff and City Council decide to take, the Chamber has said it will do its best to make the transition as seamless as possible and the City and Chamber released the following joint statement on Tuesday.
“Based upon our meeting with the Chamber CEO and members of the Executive Board, the Chamber of Commerce and the City share these common objectives and both agencies are committed to continuing our collective and individual goals of showcasing our community and making Turlock the best city to live, work, and play in.”
“The most important thing to the Chamber of Commerce and to myself is that we continue this partnership and this relationship,” Silva added as she spoke at the Council meeting. “… We look forward to continue building the community together."
Council was united in being very grateful for all that the Chamber has done over the years for the City of Turlock.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say, for a host of people — previous mayors, previous councilmembers — my most heartfelt gratitude and thanks for the many, many efforts over the course of time,” said Councilmember Bill DeHart.
Councilmember Amy Bublak added that she was disappointed to see the Chamber not compete in the RFP process.
“I’m saddened to hear that the Chamber doesn’t want to participate completely,” said Bublak, adding that she wished the Chamber could have brought some “longevity and experience” to the competitive bid process.
Moving forward, Soiseth believes the City is being more transparent and taking accountability, which has been echoed during his short time as Mayor of Turlock.
"I firmly believe Turlock will benefit from this Council's choice to move away from any perception of protectionist practices,” said Soiseth in a statement on Tuesday. “We have an obligation to scrutinize City expenses, big and small, and this scrutiny builds trust between the Council and our citizens."