Column: TDA overlooked community for eclipse event

Friends and family flew down from Michigan to our area for the opportunity to see an eclipse. Others drove for hours to be in the pathway of totality for the nationwide eclipse. The search for eclipse glasses was on. Lodging was fully booked in nearby Greenville, Spartanburg and surrounding areas. Traffic jams were noted on TV on I-85 and I-26. Restaurants were packed before and afterward.

Schools let students out early so that they might experience the event instead of being inside watching it get dark. And our Tourism Development Authority (TDA) planned … what was it? Nothing.

When the TDA’s budget was being prepared this year, it took the twisting of arms to for them to allot a paltry $50,000 out of their $1 MILLION funds for community events. Why was there not a community event that brought people together, gave them glasses, had a huge screen and music?

For the last six years the same criticism is made over the TDA each year – they focus on Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park and forget about the rest of the county. Their board rubber stamps whatever the executive director places before them even if it violates sound business practices:

  • TDA never went for a bid for marketing services for a contract in the amount up to $144,000. Instead, they relied on the same vendor over the years who has the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) account in POLK county and claims conflicts of interest in providing materials and information for the TDA.
  • When their professional consultant for the Wayfaring signs made a costly error rendering his first design useless, neither the director nor the Board held him accountable. The occupancy tax dollars for the benefit of this county were spent to cover his error.
  • The Town of Forest City asked what the TDA did for them besides the one Christmas Lights advertisement each year.
  • Did the marketing consultant have a conflict of interest with the HNG and the Dirty Dancing Festival that she started?
  • Why does the TDA have facilities in both Rutherfordton and Lake Lure?
  • Why doesn’t the board or the director recognize their own conflicts of interest?
  • Why aren’t comprehensive background checks for all employees especially financial conducted?
  • The TDA is a tax funded public entity that does not respond to public records request in a timely fashion – they have no sunshine list.

While the occupancy taxes have been increased to the maximum of 6%, the county commissioners do have the ability to rewrite legislation that restructures the occupancy tax authority. That extra one percent occupancy allegedly saved up for executive director Don Cason’s “Top Secret Project”  has yet to be explained  to the public. Why is only $50,000 in county funding for community events such as an eclipse party allotted?

It’s time for a professional executive director with marketing knowledge and a professional board to hold him/her accountable for a million dollar budget for the use of the entire community. Let the sun shine!