A 24 year partnership between the City of Turlock and the Chamber of Commerce to operate the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is tasked with bringing tourists to town, has come to an end after the Chamber submitted a letter of termination on Tuesday.
Although the Turlock City Council was slated to vote on a motion to terminate the contract at the Tuesday meeting, earlier in the day Mayor Gary Soiseth and City staff met with Chamber representatives to discuss the future of the relationship that resulted in the Chamber submitting a letter of termination.
“I met with the leadership of the Chamber of Commerce today and we had a very frank, productive, and positive conversation. I applaud them for two decades of marketing services for the city and continue to encourage them to compete for the contract,” said Soiseth.
The Turlock City Council moved forward to unanimously approve a motion to allow staff to issue a Request for Proposals for the CVB contract.
Chamber CEO and President Sharon Silva attended the council meeting Tuesday evening and recounted several of the positive outcomes the partnership has produced over the years including fostering community events and playing a vital role in the town’s economic development.
“After a lot of soul searching the Chamber Executive Board has made a decision that we would move forward and give the 90-day notice saving you a lot of trouble moving forward with your RFPs for the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” said Silva Tuesday evening. “The most important thing to the Chamber of Commerce and to myself is that we continue this partnership and this relationship. Just because we’re not carrying the CVB for you, we do still have the Chamber of Commerce and we still, I think, need each other very much to do the work that is done in this community.”
The official date of termination for the Chamber contract is May 3.
Now that the City will be entering into a new contract, Soiseth stressed the importance of transparency, a motif expressed throughout the new mayor’s campaign and 100-day commitment.
“I firmly believe Turlock will benefit from this council’s choice to move away from any perception of protectionist practices. We have an obligation to scrutinize city expenses, big and small, and this scrutiny builds trust between the council and our citizens,” said Soiseth.
In November the former City Council was perplexed by the near quarter million dollar budget proposal presented by the Chamber of Commerce to run the CVB in 2015. The Council approved the budget in a 4-1 vote with the stipulation that the Chamber would return with a more in-depth budget explanation within six months. Council member Amy Bublak cast the sole dissenting vote.
“As I’m reading this, and I’m looking for results and data and statistical analysis, all I have is expenditure stuff. I don’t have any projections of revenue, what you did the last couple years, what worked, what didn’t work, what we can anticipate in six months, what we can anticipate in a year,” said Bublak at the Nov. 18 Council meeting. “I’m sure you have it, it’s just not here and if I’m supposed to represent the public at large I need to let them know that I wouldn’t spend $250,000 of my own personal money, or theirs, without knowing what I’m getting for it. And I’m sure they can give us that information — I’m sure they can — but it’s not here.”
Bublak was not the only one questioning the $249,235 CVB budget proposal as two former council candidates vocalized concerns not that the organization was unworthy of the funds, but that the amount requested seemed inordinately large.
“The council synopsis is longer than the two pages dedicated for this budget,” Arts, Parks, and Recreation Commissioner Sergio Alvarado said, noting the lack of information on why the CVB needs funds. “$250,000 is quite a bit of money. That was five times the amount of money budgeted for roads last year in last year’s budget.”
Then-council member Forrest White, who has served on two convention and visitors bureau boards in other counties, noted that in order for a city to remain competitive, a robust budget is necessary to bid on projects to bring to the town.
“I can tell you one hundred and some thousand dollars in administrative is cheap,” said White in November.
On Jan. 27, Soiseth stated that a motion to initiate the 90-day termination process with the Chamber for the CVB contract will appear on the next council meeting’s agenda.
Now that the City will be seeking a new agency to perform tourism services, Council Member Steven Nascimento pointed out that the new contract is an opportunity for the City to be unequivocal about its expectations for tourism services.
“I think it’s important that we give clear direction to staff of what expectations will be of those bidding to provide CVB service because I think sometimes in the past the CVB has been criticized for not doing certain things that they were not directed to do,” said Nascimento Tuesday evening.
The contract itself may also change as City Manager Roy Wasden said the RFP may allow companies to bid on different aspect of the CVB, such as solely operating social media.
After the meeting Tuesday evening the City and the Chamber issued a joint statement evident that, regardless of their diverging paths, both agencies have the same goal: “showcasing our community and making Turlock the best city to live, work, and play in.”