Media Truth

Tourism board suspends executive director

From http://www.thecoalfieldprogress.com 21 December 2007 (extract):

To quote, "the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority suspended embattled executive director Geneva O'Quinn Tuesday, but more action could be forthcoming as early as Friday...The action came after board members voted to table their agenda and met behind closed doors for more than two hours.

After emerging from the closed portion of the meeting, Vice-Chairman Jeff Rolen called for action on the personnel question. "I'd like to make a motion that we ratify the personnel committee's decision to suspend the executive director until this board reconvenes at 10 a.m. Friday."

Tuesday's action is the latest volley in a contentious campaign that began in late November when questions arose regarding the alleged mishandling of the authority's funding. Citing issues related to the financial management of the group, both O'Quinn and Project Manager Kathy Roberson were suspended without pay on Dec. 4, pending a possible vote on their termination by the full board...Allegations of mishandled money and unpaid debts, as well as alleged unwillingness of authority staff to release records requested by the tourism board, have reverberated throughout the coalfield region...



Tourism authority board members had alerted Wise County administrator Glen 'Skip' Skinner that they believed the authority owed the county money to reimburse it for pay and benefits provided to O'Quinn and Roberson. An internal investigation revealed that the authority is currently in arrears for $162,800. The funds account from bills that remain unpaid from 2003-2006, according to Skinner.

Chairman dismissed from tourism board

Authority board Chairman Tim Long was notably absent from Tuesday's authority meeting, where board members voted to suspend Executive Director Geneva O'Quinn with pay, pending further action at a meeting set for tomorrow at 10 a.m... Long dropped a bombshell, "I'm dismissed from the board. I wasn't there because our (Lee County's) commonwealth attorney said I can't sit on that board.." Apparently, Long, who is director of the Lee County Industrial Development Authority, was not a member of that county's tourism committee...Long said Lee County officials will need to appoint a chairman of the board who will be able to attend the authority's meetings...


Another local news report is typical for the nonsense used to justify the waste of millions of tax dollars for zero results. To quote, "A new report that shows a jump in Dickenson County tourism and visitor dollars is no surprise to Pam Morris, the assistant director of the Ralph Stanley Museum." (www.ralphstanleymuseum.com)

The article fails to mention that the Ralph Stanley House has received about $2 million in economic development grants. She claims to have had 3000 people sign their visitor book, but while admitting most of it was local,it included 19 other countries. She fails to mention if this "museum" is self-supporting and won't be bailed out again with tax dollars.

According to the Virginia Tourism Corp. the news article claims they back up Pam's story. Southwest Virginia's tourism growth "outpaced" the 7.3% state average "with The Crooked Road, Virginia's Music Heritage Trail." Pam also claims, they "drive to Clintwood for a peek at the many exhibits highlighting the distinguished career of bluegrass legend Stanley. The Crooked Road has been marketed well, and I think that has helped." They further claim, "Four of the seven coalfield localities netted an overall 8.9 percent increase." (in 2006)

The following was cited: Tazewell County $38.8 million; Smyth County $20.7 million; Russell County $9.3 million; Dickenson County $5.7 million, and so on. But there are some problems here with these figures as they try to justify VCEDA, that uses a coal and natural gas severance tax to "diversify the coalfield economy," has pork-out more than $3 million into various tourism projects. That includes $1.4 million for luxury cabins at the Breaks Interstate Park, a minor state park. VCEDA (www.vaceda.org) also spent money on the Stanley Museum, the Carter Fold (Scott County), the Crab Orchard Museum. (Tazewell County) See www.carterfamilyfold.org and www.craborchardmuseum.com To quote, "We feel it has been a good investment." Carter's Fold got between $1-$2 million to fix their barn and replace wooden benches with new seating.

The Heart of Appalachia tourism authority (www.heartofappalachia.com), credits VCEDA and the Virginia Tobacco Commission (www.vatobaccocommission.org) for funding these projects. Some critics blast "tourism development" say the jobs pay little and offer a limited economic impact." She claims, "Nearly 2,000 people work in the tourism industry in the coalfield region. They can say what they want to about the jobs, but the local Burger King is paying $8 an hour now." They claim an annual payroll tops $132 million throughout the region. And to quote, "Buchanan County spent $16.3 million, much of it due to the Appalachian School of Law and the University of Appalachia's pharmacy school."

The last sentence should be a clue to what is really going on here. They did not specify what that region included, but I'll assume the Virginia 9th congressional district of Congressman Rick Boucher. (www.boucher.house.gov) He also helped spend about $10 million in Dickenson County that produced about 100 government contractor jobs. But what does a law school and a pharmacy school have to do with tourism? Are we getting guided tours of the law library?

It should be noted we have more agencies "helping" to fight poverty and "create" jobs than actual private sector jobs produced. Even according to VCEDA itself, government employs almost one-fourth of the population of the Coalfields and is certainly the good jobs. Government grants and spending are the growth industry in itself, and little gets to the typical resident, as I will illustrate below.

First of all Smyth County and as the article pointed out, Bristol Virginia and Washington County are not even in the Coalfields or connected with VCEDA. Their big boosts in regards to tourism is I-81 and some truck stops and ten of millions in pork-barrel waste in Abingdon. The data from the Virginia Tourism Corp. reveals information for several Southwest Virginia counties/cities and it presents a differing picture. Before I get to that, the following criteria for "travel impacts" was stated as:

"Expenditures represent the direct spending by domestic travelers including meals, lodging, public transportation, auto transportation, shopping, admissions and entertainment." Thus there is no way to separate what is a "tourist" versus a local resident eating at the local Burger King. "Payroll represents the direct wages, salaries and tips corresponding to the direct travel-related employment." They didn't specify what industries this included, but considering it includes everything from Burger King to convenience stores, it isn't hard to see why it went up. "Employment represents the estimates of direct travel-related employment in the locality." But estimates of what exactly? Does that include every gas station and Burger King?

"State Tax Receipts represents the estimates of direct travel-related state taxes generated within the locality. These taxes would include the state sales-and-use tax, gasoline excise taxes, corporate income tax and the personal income tax." What does corporate income taxes and personal income taxes have to do with tourism? It also includes, "Local Travel Receipts represents the estimates of direct travel-related local taxes generated within the locality. These taxes would include the local sales-and-use tax, local excise taxes and property taxes." and "Lodging Excise Tax Collected, Food Service Excise Tax Collected, and Admissions Excise Tax Collected represent the local excise tax collections for lodging, meals and admissions, respectively, if applicable in the locality."

Anyone above a 5th grade education can see what is going on here. Let's go back to Pam Morris, the assistant director of the Ralph Stanley Museum and see if the facts stand up against the claims. According to data, travel/tourism employment dropped in Dickenson County from 2003-6, and the lodging excise tax the only thing that could be directly tied to tourism, fell 3.7% from 2003 while the overall county population continued to fall. The "tourism" payroll was $1,246,000 in 2003 and 1,302,000 in 2006. But adjusted for inflation (www.westegg.com) should have been $1,356,000 just to break even with inflation. They lost $50,000 plus another $2 million in taxpayer dollars given to this so-called "museum."

Russell County got $9.3 million they claim. Indeed the data says just that, but here we have more problems. They indeed came out ahead on expenditures after inflation by about $1 million, but there was no gain in "tourism" employment, it was same as 2003. But payroll in 2006 was $ 2,234,753, but adjusted for inflation $2,288,939. They lost over $50,000. That "big growth" is entirely due to the state relocating lucrative state contracts to Russell County. The resulting expenditures to outside contractors will inflate the "expenditures" in the manner they count them.

Scott County is the home of Carter's Fold, has received millions in "tourism" investment by taxpayers. Tourism employment dropped 0.3% and payroll after inflation dropped by $100,000. Same story in Buchanan County where "tourism" employment dropped 2.1% between 2003-6 and while $16.3 million was "expended," fails to factor in the almost $250 million spent in the county for Grundy flood control, the various "schools" and mega-buck road projects. The results are illustrated below as the massive spending does not translate into real jobs or improves the lives of the average citizen. They are kept in their place as the social apartheid culture continues.

Ref. Tourists flocking to Southwest Virginia and opening their wallets according to Virginia Tourism figures by Kathy Still September 30, 2007 Bristol Herald Courier.