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April 17, 2014
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editorial

The wrong approach to a worthwhile idea


What happened to legislative chairman Scott Samuelson’s “open communication and transparency,” as described in his inaugural speech?

Also troubling, at least from the point of view of appearances, is the fact that a new non-profit tourism agency, called Sullivan County Tourism and Promotion, headed by three prominent Democrats (Neil Gilberg, Bill Liblick and Donna Schick, the new secretary of the Sullivan County Democratic Committee), registered in the county in January. That makes the decision to put the RFP out now look like it could be a back-room political deal, even if it’s not.

As we have noted in previous editorials, when it comes to conflicts of interest, what is important in a democracy is not only impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety. Because there is frequently no way to distinguish between cases in which it only looks like there is a conflict of interest and when there is a real one, the only way to avoid them is to avoid even appearances. Moreover, all human beings, even with the best conscious will in the world, are sometimes unaware of their own unconscious biases. And finally, if elected officials are allowed to decide for themselves whether they are committing an impropriety or not, voter trust will be lost. Especially ironic is the fact that one of the new legislature’s first orders of business will be deliberation on a new ethics code that would limit conflicts of interest more strictly.

So here we have what could be a good idea, but one that needs a lot more thought, planning, and transparency—which means incorporation of input not only from the other legislators, but from county businesses. The solution seems obvious. Don’t do it now. Use the next year to consult with all the legislators and SCVA members. Give everybody in the county who might have an interest in or ability to manage tourism dollars time to think it over and come up with fabulous ideas. Figure out what will be done about business member involvement, frequency of RFPs and the like. And once it’s been thought through and the public well informed, call for RFPs at a time that ensures that tourism promotion will continue to flow smoothly.