Tourism bureau head resigns

September 11, 1997


Staff Writer

The head of Washington County's tourism bureau resigned Thursday, leaving an opportunity to improve the image of the beleaguered office, officials said.

Ron Stansbury said his successor should not be a member of the transition board, an embattled group he led for five months that restructured the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau budget to focus on marketing and promotion rather than salaries.

During a Thursday morning tourism board meeting, Vice President Jim Kell agreed with Stansbury, saying he didn't want the top post. Kell was a member of the transition board.


"We don't want any perception problems. We want to be clean as a whistle," Kell said after the meeting at the C&O Canal National Historical Park headquarters near Sharpsburg.

The transition board had come under fire during the summer from some Washington County Commissioners and bureau members, who said they thought the short-term board had overstepped its bounds by closing information centers and laying off employees.

"I think the perception of tourism could be enhanced immeasurably" with someone new in the top post, said Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, one of the transition board's critics.

Bowers said none of the transition board members should be on the board now. "I think we need to get on with tourism."

Kell and Dick Trump are the only transition board members still on the board.

Kell, who is one of three representatives on the board for local hotels, said Bowers was entitled to his opinion.

"I don't think there should be any County Commissioners on the commission either," Kell said jokingly.

Trump would not comment on Bowers' statement. Trump and Stansbury were not at the meeting.

Board members will select one of their own to be the tourism bureau's next president during a Sept. 25 meeting at Greenbrier State Park.

The board accepted Stansbury's resignation Thursday. Board officials plan to present him with a plaque and letter of appreciation.

Charles Sekula, Schmankerl Stube restaurant owner and a transition board member, warned board members to be careful with their actions and words. "You will be scrutinized by the public and private sector," he said.

The criticism Stansbury faced as head of the transition board contributed to his decision to resign, said Stansbury, 63, of Beaver Creek.

"I had to take the heat through all that employee situation and that was really tiring," he said.

After much seesawing on whether tourism employees would be laid off on June 30 or kept on until late summer, five tourism employees accepted a layoff offer from the county on June 30 because they were tired of the uncertainty, county officials have said.

Under the transition team, the tourism bureau's information centers in Breezewood, Pa., and Williamsport were closed in an effort to switch the bureau's emphasis from salaries to marketing.

The board also hired a new executive director, Ben R. Hart, who was president and chief executive officer of the Greater Grand Forks, N.D., Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Also contributing to his decision to resign were his penchant for traveling frequently and the bureau's bylaws.

Members of the tourism bureau must be chief executive officers or general managers of tourism service-related businesses, but Stansbury hasn't fit the bill since he sold Ron's Deli in 1988, he said.

Stansbury said he had reservations when he accepted the top post of the restructured bureau on July 31, but wanted to stay on until the bureau received its first revenue check from the commissioners.

The commissioners gave the newly-restructured bureau its first $36,000 check from the 3 percent hotel/motel room tax on Tuesday, he said.

Stansbury said board and public officials were concerned the commissioners might try to continue controlling the bureau since the room tax revenue is funneled through the county.

While the bureau has been a private organization since it was begun in 1990, the commissioners wouldn't let it be private since they controlled the budget, he said.

Stansbury said the commissioners accepted the inevitable when they passed the check to the tourism bureau.

Stansbury has said he expects the board to have a budget of $400,000 this fiscal year, with $227,000 to be spent on administrative costs and $173,000 on marketing. Any additional revenue will be spent on marketing.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners are not trying to control the tourism bureau.

Both he and Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II were amazed to hear Stansbury had resigned.

"I'm sure he ruffled some feathers along the way, but in the end he tried to do what was best for tourism," Snook said.

Bruchey said Stansbury's leadership was "impeccable."

Stansbury said he will still teach golf at Hagerstown Junior College.

Stansbury said his wife, Flo, left her job at the tourism bureau last Thursday within hours after a reporter questioned him about her being a "paid volunteer" at the bureau.

Flo Stansbury was to be paid $6 an hour and had worked about 30 hours in two weeks, he has said. A check made out to her for those hours was returned to the bureau last Thursday, he said.

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