City councillors have given the go-ahead for the next step in creating of a new non-profit tourism corporation, although some concerns about how it should be structured and to what extent it should be insulated from political oversight still remain.
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The corporation is question will receive half of all the money collected from the four per cent Municipal Accommodation Tax that is now being levied on all hotel stays in Cornwall. It would then be able to use that money to help promote the tourism industry in the city by giving it out in the form of grants to various projects.
Council decided to push back the decision to give permission to begin the necessary work to create the non-profit corporation so administrators could find solutions to concerns it could be co-opted by city hall when the law requires it be independent of the municipality.
Part of the solution is to have a group of city administrators vet and appoint the members of the corporation’s board of directors instead of city councillors. But Coun. Bernadette Clement noted this approach also comes with the potential for bad optics.
“We don’t want this to be perceived as a city club-run operation. We want people to have confidence that these funds are going to be distributed by people who are not just city staff, but are representative of the community,” said Clement.
Clement suggested perhaps different sectors of the tourism industry in Cornwall should nominate someone to sit on the board of directors as their representative.
That would not work under the current proposed structure, which would not allow anyone with a financial interest in a tourism-related business to sit on the board. The general manager of planning, recreation and development Mark Boileau explained the city’s lawyers recommended this so there would be no conflicts of interest when approving grants.
Members of the industry will be able to sit on a review committee which will be able to vet funding applications and recommend them to the board for final approval.
While avoiding conflicts is an admirable goal, Clement said she still felt concerned having lawyers or other professionals without an understanding the industry could undermine confidence in their decisions.
Coun. Elaine MacDonald wanted to know if there will be some level of information sharing or co-ordination between the new corporation and the municipally-run Cornwall Tourism, so the two organizations will not be working at cross-purposes. Boileau said he expects they would be in frequent communication with each other.
Coun. Mark MacDonald seemed to take the view that the city should still have some level of input with the tourism corporation, especially as the municipality continues to try to find ways to pay for the new arts and culture centre.
“For the council to lose input with the board with regards to direction, we had better be careful,” he said.
Coun. Denis Carr worried they may be overcomplicating things. The idea of having a body to support tourism initiatives with grants shouldn’t need to be complicated. If there are concerns about professionalism, the city can help people navigate conflicts, but that doesn’t require putting up barriers to people getting involved.