Meeting on Oct. 10 in Lyle, Klickitat County's Tourism Advisory Board voted unanimously to accept the "Tourism Strategic Plan" prepared by a consultant from outside the county.
The plan -- prepared by Pearl Communications of Seattle -- sparked controversy, especially among proponents of the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce. Chamber backers said they believe the report, which cost $15,000, unfairly described the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce and the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce as not being of much help with tourism efforts.
Jim Rutledge, chair of the 11-member Tourism Advisory Board, said he believes the report sets out important objectives, and added he felt much of the criticism was unwarranted.
"The goal of the whole study is to give us information to help us improve the visitor experience here, and attract new visitors," Rutledge said. "They made some recommendations pretty challenging to the way we do business here. It's good to see information from outside sources."
Rutledge said details of the final tourism plan would be discussed at an upcoming workshop with the County Commissioners.
"We'll develop an action plan to develop the strategy," Rutledge said, adding that the final plan will be executed by the county's Economic Development Department.
"That's the arm of government under which tourism and visitor information falls," Rutledge explained.
Chamber supporters said they weren't convinced the Pearl report was an objective study.
"We still don't know what it means for the chamber," said Teunis Wyers, a past president of the Mt. Adams Chamber and coordinator of the annual, chamber-sponsored Community Pride Week cleanup. "The board accepted the report, but were not necessarily adopting the report as a plan."
However, Wyers said he believed the report was an "insult," and he blasted the involvement of the county's Economic Development Department in helping to fund the consultant's study.
"The report missed a lot of facts and misconstrues a lot of facts," Wyers said. "The report's recommendations are wholly untenable. It's insulting, and it's unfortunate this $15,000 went out of the community. I'm so tired of Tom Seifert [of the county's Economic Development Department] asking us to justify our existence as a vehicle to disseminate tourist information or be defunded. I've been hearing that for five years, and I'm just sick of it. We need to foster a culture of cooperation instead of confrontation."
Wyers added that he thought the tourism board's decision to accept the plan was made before the Oct. 10 public meeting. He noted that the board held a private meeting on Oct. 1, and chamber supporters and the public were excluded.
"It's pretty clear to me they made this decision in their closed Oct. 1 meeting -- and they didn't keep minutes of that meeting," Wyers said. "Robin Hale [chamber board member and owner of Bridge RV Park] tried to go to that meeting, and they told him he wasn't welcome. I'm concerned about the process being followed."
Erin Anderson, a board member and past president of the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce, said he felt the Pearl report lacked objectivity.
"Where I think they really devalued that plan was by putting that stuff in there about the chambers," Anderson said. "What I don't see is how they go from one or two critical comments in Goldendale to reach the conclusion to stop funding the visitors' service center, kick us out of the Heritage Center, and cut us out of the whole tourism process."
"That proposal to put a private business into the Heritage Center in exchange for free rent is just ludicrous," Wyers said.
Despite the negative slant against the chambers in the Pearl report, Wyers said he remained optimistic the Board of County Commissioners would provide funding for the chambers in 2003. Last year, the two chambers received $15,000 each to help the county promote tourism via personal contact at visitors' centers and distribution of tourist-oriented brochures.
"There is every likelihood the Mt. Adams chamber will be funded for its $15,000 request," Wyers said. "But the trend here is really, really unhealthy, and there is pressure to wean ourselves from county money. It's really frustrating and discouraging."
Anderson said the chambers may consider cutting financial ties to county government.
"It gets so tedious fighting for this money every year," Anderson explained. "We're hoping for $15,000, but it could be anywhere from there down to nothing if things go awry."
Rutledge pointed out, however, that there were other ways to promote tourism besides the Chamber of Commerce, and noted that the tourism board has a broad range of representation from a number of diverse businesses in the county.
"We have to decide what kind of recommendation to make for all requests, not just the chambers," Rutledge explained. "There are a lot of advertising requests, and requests to print brochures. It's our goal to attract more visitors and do a better job of it. Sources inside the county don't necessarily give us the results we seek."
The next meeting of the Tourism Advisory Board is Oct. 30 in Goldendale, at 1:30 p.m. in the County Courthouse.
"We will take all proposals into consideration, and make our budget recommendation to the County Commissioners by Nov. 1," Rutledge said.