In the span of 16 months since the City Council voted to approve a Request for Proposal process to find a new entity to manage the Convention and Visitors Bureau, there is still no RFP.
The CVB acted as the marketing arm for the City of Turlock and was managed at the time by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce. Their efforts would aim to bring outside money, tourism, and encourage the economic development of the City.
However, concerns were raised regarding the effectiveness of the CVB, and Councilmember Amy Bublak requested data to represent the CVB’s effectiveness. This would have included downloads of the CVB app, heavily searched terms on the CVB website, and their social media presence.
When the City Council was slated to vote on the contract, the former CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Sharon Silva terminated their contract with the City. Even though, the contract was terminated, the City Council still voted unanimously to move forward with the RFP process to find a new operator for the CVB.
Allegations from the City of Turlock arose that indicated that the Chamber of Commerce had made over $241,000 of unallowable expenditures from taxpayer dollars that were not in their contract. These included $3,500 for “chamber to repay CVB” in 2014, where the City alleges the CVB was never reimbursed and fixed assets such as a “65” Panasonic TV” and “printer” worth approximately $20,000.
It has been 16 months since the City Council voted to pursue an RFP process on Feb. 10, 2015.
Councilmembers Steven Nascimento and Bill Dehart Jr. wanted to have 6 months to analyze and define what was really needed in an RFP. However, Mayor Soiseth and Councilmember Bublak pushed for the quick break from the Chamber for an open bid process.
The quick break from the chamber to start the RFP process has so far proven fruitless. After 16 months, the City Manager’s office has only recently started taking steps to find a new operator for the CVB.
During June 14 budget workshop, Councilmember Steven Nascimento addressed that Fund 120- Tourism of the City of Turlock’s 2016-2017 fiscal year proposed budget had not received any augmentation for city advertising. Providing advertising and marketing services to bring tourism into the city is the job of the CVB.
When the Chamber of Commerce terminated its contract with the City of Turlock, the Recreation Division received control of the CVB in March 2015. While also handling some of the responsibilities of the CVB, the Recreation Division has also managed to increase the total amount of revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax, which is the additional tax hotel guests pay for lodging. This is done with an approximate budgeted amount of $20,000.
With only a part time individual from the recreation division operating the CVB, the City was actually able to not only maintain but increase the revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax in the last fiscal year.
The fact remains however, that recreation is only handling some of the responsibilities of the CVB. With an approximate $20,000 budget, the Recreation Division was actually able to exceed the amount of revenue generated when the Chamber of Commerce operated the CVB, who operated with an approximate $200,000 budget.
Such a figure draws questions as to whether CVB methods are drawing tourism into the town, or if the Chamber of Commerce and, currently, the City’s Recreation Division were claiming responsibility for tourism that was already in town. The same data requested of the Chamber of Commerce could be asked of the City’s Recreation Division to show in what way they were bringing tourism into the city.
“My any dismay would be assuaged simply by a bit more revenue coming in. That that can’t be explained is a puzzlement, but I think it is something that we do need to get on top of as rapidly as we possibly can,” stated Councilmember Bill DeHart.
Councilmember Steven Nascimento was asked for comment, however no correspondence was received prior to publication.
Currently, an RFP is not completed for a new operator of the CVB, despite the council making the vote to begin the competitive bid process 16 months ago. The City Manager’s office did not carry out the council’s direction in the timeframe that was adopted.
Current City Manager Gary Hampton, who ultimately replaced the former City Manager Roy Wasden in April, stated, “We have not been progressive in addressing this issue, and… the City Manager’s office is responsible for that.”
“I’m responsible for that. We have not met the council direction in the last 13 months. In the past 3 months, I began steps toward trying to achieve that, but it’s not going to be an immediate RFP… first we need to identify what it is we are going to do.”
In Hampton’s first 90 days as City Manager, he has taken steps toward trying to make this RFP. However, this RFP will still take some time to reach the council. As of June, the development of this RFP is 16 months and counting.