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Tourism bureau matter might require legislation

January 23, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown Mayor Steve Sager told lawmakers Wednesday that the most recent snag in the restructuring of the embattled Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau can be overcome without legislation.

But members of Washington County's legislative delegation, having heard such assurances before, said they want to have a bill drafted just in case.

"I just want to make sure that we're not still talking about this this time next year," said Del. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

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The debate centers on the tourism agency, which has been criticized in the past for having overhead costs, including salaries, that are too high in an annual budget of about $500,000, and for not concentrating enough on marketing efforts to lure visitors to the area.

A task force studying the county's tourism efforts recommended last month that the existing public, nonprofit tourism board be turned into a public-private partnership independent of local government and with a clear set of goals.

Delegation members were told back then that the restructuring could be done without passing new legislation.

An key element of the plan was for the tourism board to resign and be replaced by a transition team that would guide the reorganization. That plan hit a stumbling block earlier this month when the board said it would be "premature" to resign, and asked to work along with the transition team until a new board was in place.

Sager said he and County Commissioners President Greg Snook met with tourism officials for about an hour earlier this week to iron out their differences. He said he believes the board will move ahead with the mass resignation.

"If that holds, I'm happy. If that doesn't hold, I'll be back" requesting legislation, Sager said.

Judi Durham, president of the tourism board, said the board won't take a formal position until after its executive committee meets next week. Then the full board would have to vote on the matter next month.

Asked if she thought the board was leaning toward resigning, Durham said, "I have no idea."

Poole and Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, suggested that the delegation write, but not submit, a bill that would reorganize the tourism agency. That way they would be prepared if there are further problems dealing with the transition, they said.

Sager said he had no problem with the idea, which was approved by the entire delegation. He said that writing a bill strengthens the message to the tourism board that the reorganization has support.

"It's important for them to understand from external sources ... that this transition is wanted and, one way or another, will happen," Sager said.

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