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Visitors association compared to Halliburton;Democratic chair responds to change in tourism money (updated story)

By Fritz Mayer
February 1, 2012

MONTICELLO, NY — Darryl Kaplan, the chair of the Sullivan County Democratic Committee, issued a press release on January 31, defending the decision of five of the newly elected Democrats of the legislature to change the way tourism dollars are awarded.

He called the relationship between the county and the Sullivan County Visitors Association (SCVA) as it exists now “a no-bid contract,” similar to the one Halliburton had with the U.S. Department of Defense. “The Democratic legislators did the right thing and now they need our support. The other side is making a lot of noise.”

The noise was sparked by the January 26 vote to change the way the legislature awards about $700,000 in room-tax revenue to promote tourism for the county. For the past 12 years, the legislature has negotiated with and awarded a yearly contract to SCVA, a not-for-profit membership organization.

Now, however, the legislature is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) and will be accepting proposals from SCVA and other organizations. The move prompted a parade of SCVA members to speak up during the public comment period at the monthly county meeting in Monticello.

Paul Carlucci, president of the SCVA board, and Rick Lander, vice president, said the timing of the change could be harmful to the tourism industry, which is the second largest industry in the county.

Stacy Cohen, owner of the Dancing Cat Saloon and Catskill Distillery, warned that issuing an RFP at this time would disrupt the production of promotional materials for the coming summer season, which are already being prepared. She said, “This is the only time that we have to put our marketing and advertising together for the summer.” According to the resolution, the legislature is expecting to accept one of the RPFs by March 19.

Jill Wiener, proprietor of Earth Girl Pottery, echoed that idea. She said, “We are just in the midst of putting the final touches on our travel guide, which this year is expanded to have a whole new wedding and celebrations section, we’re in the middle of putting together driving tours for the county; this is very badly timed.”

Another criticism of the move was that it was not done in the open. Democrats in the legislature now outnumber Republicans seven to two; Republican legislator Alan Sorensen said that all of the discussion about SCVA and the RFP process was done in the Democratic caucus, and he had only learned about the vote an hour before the meeting started.