YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsCvb

Lawmakers say CVB needs closer watch

November 21, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the executive director of which recently was forced to resign amid allegations of misappropriation of agency money, needs closer oversight, state lawmakers said Thursday.

Convention and Visitors Bureau board Chairman Ron Vitkun has said Ben Hart was asked to resign Oct. 27 after an internal investigation into the matter. Hagerstown Police launched an investigation at the request of the bureau.

Members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly met with tourism officials Thursday.

The CVB quickly discovered the irregularities through its internal accountability procedures, said delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

But the incident points out the need for more state and county scrutiny of the independent agency, funded largely with hotel tax money, some lawmakers said.


Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said lawmakers did not receive an annual report in July from the CVB as required by the 1997 law that privatized the agency.

County government officials were not given a copy of the agency's budget, Munson said.

Vitkun apologized to lawmakers and promised that such an oversight would not happen again under his watch.

"We were led to believe that the delegation as well as the County Commissioners were informed. That was not done," he said.

Munson said minor changes in the law might be needed to increase oversight.

As an example, the state could require the county to give the agency money, which would trigger an automatic annual budget review by the Washington County Commissioners.

In addition, the agency plans to change its bylaws to allow the delegation to appoint a representative on its board, Vitkun said.

Despite the current situation, the CVB staff is committed to promoting tourism in the county, Vitkun said.

There are five full-time employees, compared with 14 when the agency was government-run, he said.

Over the last five years, the amount of money generated by the lodging tax has increased by 17.6 percent, or about $79,500 per year.

The agency has launched a search for a new CEO.

Vitkun is on the search committee, along with Washington County Commissioner Doris Nipps and F&M Bank President James Pierne, he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles