By Kaylee Remington, The Morning Journal
Board members of Visit Lorain County – Lorain County Visitors Bureau and staff members attended the Lorain County commissioners meeting Jan. 20 to give support to Executive Director Barb Bickel who gave a presentation of the organization.
The presentation was given in hopes that the commissioners will reconsider the vote of terminating their contract with the Visitors Bureau and entering into a new one. The commissioners voted on the resolution, 3-0, during a Nov. 10 meeting.
Commissioner Matt Lundy said after the meeting that one of the biggest concerns for the commissioners is the meetings have been out of public view and not transparent, which is an issue since the Visitors Bureau receives $500,000 in bed tax money a year.
Lundy added that even the doors would be locked during the meetings. The meetings take place at 8025 Leavitt Road in Amherst.
“The transparency and open meetings was a very big concern,” he said.
Lundy further explained that the commissioners want a more streamlined Visitors Bureau board.
Howard Lane, a Visitors Bureau board member, also spoke to the commissioners Jan. 20 and stated he understands they have issues with its 17-member board of directors.
“We proposed to them, you can have an advisory board as big as you want and the advisory board can be from all over the county,” Lundy said. “That would make it possible for more inclusion. But when it came time to make a decision, it would be limited to nine decision makers.”
The Visitors Bureau leaders could rotate people where someone votes one time and is on the advisory board next, he said.
The board of directors recently voted 7-5 to restructure the board. Lundy, who is on the board of directors, did not vote on the restructuring.
Lane stated during the commissioners’ meeting, the Visitors Bureau has no objections to the meetings being public and admitted it, technically, hasn’t been following the open meetings act. Lane said they haven’t given notices out, either.
Lane, however, stressed that it’s not like the meetings are closed, the board just never gave notice to the public and the media.
“Our lack of adherence to the open meetings act wasn’t a result of any desire to keep anything a secret or deny the commissioners or public access,” he said.
Lane, who has been on the board for five years, said, in the past, the Visitors Bureau hasn’t had problems with the size of the board and it allows for more people to be involved.
“Our current board members are from all over the county,” he said. “But if the plan we are discussing, the nine with the 5/4 split, does go into effect, which again could be a condition of any contract we enter into, the board’s going to have a direct role in choosing who’s going to be on that board and addressing any concerns of geographic misrepresentation that you feel exists.”
Bickel’s presentation showcased the increased usage of the Visitors Bureau.
The lodging tax has gone up 47 percent in the past five years. At the same time, the marketing budget doubled in 2015 and the Visitors Bureau is looking to triple it this year, she said.
The Visitors Bureau’s online presence also has grown.
“For 2010 to 2015, the number of users and sessions have tripled and page views have doubled in that time,” Bickel said.
Social media presence also has increased 20 percent from 2015 to 2016.
The 2016 Adventure and Visitors Info Guide for Lorain County can be picked up on the Ohio Turnpike, Indiana Turnpike, Pennsylvania Turnpike and Ohio Department of Transportation information centers. There are 300 distribution points in Lorain County where people can get the visitors guide.
“We’re incredibly excited and optimistic about the tourism in Lorain County,” Bickel said, adding she hopes issues can be addressed with the commissioners.
At this point, the commissioners are reviewing their presentation and no decision has been made yet, Lundy said.