August Editorial Winner

Just fix it

Wayne Trotter, The Countywide & Sun

Let's get a couple of things straight before moving on to the heart of this editorial. Lawyers for the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Shawnee are in court today fussin' and fightin' over mistakes made way back in 1994. The argument presumably is over the best way to attract tourists and other visitors to this area, but it certainly looks like the real rationales are bruised egos on both sides and embedded "we know better than you" attitudes ... especially on the part of the city.
But the Pottawatomie County Courthouse is not where representatives of the city and the chamber should be this morning. They ought to be in a room somewhere eating their own crow and working this thing out. We would like for that to be done in public because we are convinced that secrecy is a big part of this problem, but we would welcome a spirit of accommodation however that might be reached by the two sides. This mess is beginning to attract statewide attention and that holds the potential of damaging future efforts to "Get Away and Play" in Shawnee. Today's edition of The Oklahoman features a front-page promo referring readers to a local front story about the lawsuit. This is not just a Shawnee story anymore.
Now to get down to some specific points...
POINT ONE: The 1994 contract that established the Shawnee Convention and Visitors Bureau and paved the way for a Tourism Advisory Committee is very weak. Both sides will acknowledge that. This brief agreement reads like a resolution (it begins with four paragraphs preceded by the word "Whereas") and doesn't even contain a cancellation clause, something you'll find in most every other contract. Over the years, it hasn't even come before the City Commission's Contract Review Committee. How come? Inertia played a role but so did something the city is reluctant to admit: For all its faults, this contract was working until some of the commissioners got upset. Commissioner Frank Sims makes some valid points but he is badly mistaken on one central argument. The CVB is doing its job. We know a little about advertising and promotions and we can say that unequivocally. Whatever else is done, that contract has to be rewritten if this dispute is ever to be settled.
POINT TWO: The Chamber of Commerce was way out of line when it took title to the land near Interstate 40 where the CVB wants to build a headquarters and welcome center. That property is being paid for by money generated by the hotel-motel room assessment — taxes, in other words. That's your money and through some government agency — the city, a trust, whatever — you need to own the property. There are lots of ways to do that. Why hasn't someone tried to find one? It's time to start.
POINT THREE: Many people in Shawnee suspect that the attitudes displayed by Mr. Sims, Mayor Linda Peterson, Vice Mayor Billy Collier and Commissioners Pam Stephens and Steve Smith are somehow related to the capital improvements / taxation plan the commission proposed and supported but which got clobbered at the polls back in February. The Chamber of Commerce opposed those five propositions and wanted to cut back the spending. This theory maintains that the commissioners are simply mad and are looking for payback. Right or wrong? We don't know but we have to agree it looks that way. It really doesn't matter, folks. If the chamber had thrown its full weight behind this plan, it wouldn't have made one whit of difference. That February referendum was doomed from the beginning. It was what people said — a Valentine's Day Massacre, Shawnee style. Forget it.
POINT FOUR: It also looks like the commission is playing "Beat The Clock" on this important issue. Less than two weeks from now, Mrs. Peterson, Mr. Collier and Mr. Sims will be replaced by newly elected members and at least two of those — possibly three pending Tuesday's runoff — were swept in because of their opposition to what the commission proposed and the chamber opposed last February. On Sept. 4, the five votes that have driven the city's posture are likely to shrink to two or three votes. That is reality. Mayor-Elect Wes Mainord has made it clear that he wants accommodation on the chamber / tourism matter. We think the people of Shawnee do as well. Why isn't somebody working on that rather than rushing into court? Why, chamber? Why, city?
POINT FIVE: Mayor Peterson and Mr. Sims now say this thing has been going on for three years or threequarters of their current terms. Huh? If that's the case, all that has been well behind the scenes. This didn't come to public attention until a few months ago, not three years ago. Mayor Peterson's attempts to "unite" the commission, we sincerely believe, inadvertently resulted in an erosion of public confidence that has instead divided the city. One example is the effort on the part of this newspaper and The Shawnee News -Star in March of 2010 to open commission e-mails in keeping with two attorney general opinions. Know what? We never even received a formal written reply to our formal written request. Maybe the commissioners talked about that in one or more of those frequent executive sessions? You think?
The chamber and the city theoretically want the same thing when it comes to attracting more visitors and increasing the city's business activity and sales tax revenue. Under the leadership of Gordona Rowell, the CVB can and has been doing that job and doing it well. It was the chamber, not the city, who took this into court but the city seems happy enough to play "Beat the Clock" before a judge. Wes Mainord is right. This can be settled amicably. Somebody needs to make the first move. Is anybody listening? Anybody at all?