Council, Tourism Board Ink Operation Agreement

OCEAN CITY – The final draft of a Memorandum of Understanding was passed this week between the town and the Tourism Advisory Board (TAB), adding that promoters will now have to provide detailed invoices for event spending.

In April a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was presented to the Mayor and City Council by TAB, and it returned this week for its final approval with a few minor changes.

“I think we finally got it here,” TAB Chair Melanie Pursel said.

Pursel said there were a couple tweaks, such as specifying actively seeking out new and additional opportunities as well as providing a monthly spread sheet of applicants.

TAB was formed following the 2010 election when the council voted to dissolve the Tourism Commission, along with other sub-committees of city government.

The purpose of the MOU between the town and TAB is to illustrate the responsibilities of both parties with regard to the destination marketing funds advised by TAB.

According to the MOU, TAB’s responsibilities include identifying, reviewing and recommending events, promotional items and opportunities to increase tourism. Recommendations will be for future or existing events, and promotions that bring significant visitation to Ocean City, extended stays or provide an enhanced, value-added experience for visitors.

It states having clear policies and procedures for collecting and soliciting, reviewing and recommending expenditures to the council, including the requirement for each applicant to include a detailed budget and project narrative. All applicants fill out an application for funding which is reviewed by TAB.

The MOU also included that all expenditures are approved by the Mayor and City Council, provide economic impact figures of events that have been supported by the town, and attend work sessions to keep the town abreast of the progress of various approved events and projects.

The new version presented this week added TAB will be seeking new opportunities from a variety of sources, and that all applicants will be required to provide references to ensure fiscal soundness.

Lastly, active members of TAB will be selected from a variety of tourism-related industries, including hotel, motel, retail, restaurant, condo, amusement and potentially a citizen, based on TAB approval. In addition to industry, TAB will review potential members on a variety of factors. TAB will approve members and officers and will present the slate to town. Town department heads will be requested to attend as needed.

The town’s responsibilities are to provide annual funding in the amount of $300,000 to invest in new or existing events, marketing opportunities, promotions that generate visitation, extended stays and value added experiences for existing visitors. This would be a two-year commitment and reviewed every two years. Projects are limited to one year with an option to renew for a second year. This applies primarily to private events, not contracted services.

Also, the town will allow dollars not used in one fiscal year to be rolled over to the next fiscal year, process all payments, once approved, through city accounts following purchasing requirements, ensure that all purchase orders will be obtained by the city and payments issued directly to the vendors, ensure that all payments be processed in a timely manner, and include events on website, consider during any public relation or media tours and on any collateral materials where appropriate.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas raised a concern over having applicants provide a detailed invoice of the towns funds used.

“It’s minor but it’s major when it comes to the taxpayer’s money,” she said.

Councilman Joe Hall was concerned that the requirement would discourage promoters to hold an event in Ocean City.

“I understand our desire for transparency but I think there are some different parameters here,” he said. “I mean where do you stop with this invoice thing … I don’t know if you need to go down to every little line item on a particular component. I think some valuable possible promoters that come to town might not want to do that and you could stifle some business.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the town needs accountability when it comes to spending tax money on events.

Meehan used local promoter Bob Rothermel as an example. Rothermel’s series of events was brought to the council for approval by TAB and the council approved to have TAB use $275,000 to put on the events and Rothermel agreed to supply detailed invoices of how the funds are being used.

“We need to be very clear about that,” he said. “Here’s the cost and then if there is a promotional fee, that’s your fee, and then anything else will be on a cost to cost basis.”

The council eventually came to consensus to amend the MOU to include “proper invoicing and documentation” under the town’s responsibility’s and voted to approve the MOU as amended unanimously.

Following the vote, Pursel announced that TAB has selected Greg Shockley of Shenanigans Irish Pub and Grille as the new chair and John Gehrig of D3Corp as the new co-chair.