City okays pact with Chamber

Heated, emotional words fly in session

The City of Rockdale approved its annual contract designating the Chamber of Commerce to manage hotel/motel tax funds Monday in one of t he more contentious council sessions in decades.

A half-dozen members of the Chamber board, and councilman Allan Miller, tangled several times with councilwoman Toby Johnson who suggested the council investigate the possibility of taking the management contract away from the Chamber.

That idea failed on a series of split votes. Miller and council members Willie Phillips and Gerry Offield voted against Johnson’s motion to table the Chamber contract with Johnson and Joyce Dalley voting in favor.

Dalley then joined Miller, Phillips and Offield to vote in favor of the City-Chamber contract itself, allowing the Chamber 100 percent of hotel/motel tax collections.

‘DESTROY ’— The contract came up for discussion after months of comments and criticisms of Chamber management by Johnson.

“We need to look at whether this contract has ever gone out for bids,” Johnson said.

She said a “proposal is in process” for the Chamber to begin to administer tourism money.”

“I would like to see the city begin to administer these tourism dollars,” she said, suggesting a tourism committee made up of different entities.

“I believe in time the answer is to have it administered by the city,” Dalley said. “If now is the right time, I’m not going to say that.”

That prompted a vigorous, and emotional, defense of the Chamber from council visitor Dr. Lucile Estell.

“You will destroy our Chamber, the Chamber will be gone if you do that (withhold hotel-motel tax funds),” Dr. Estell said.

“Our (restored historical) depot would not be there if not for the Chamber,” she said, adding she did not agree with Johnson’s assertion the public did not know tourism promotion funds originate with the hotel/motel tax.

“The last thing I want to do is destroy the Chamber,” Dalley said.

‘ASK THEM NICELY’— Miller and Phillips also commended the Chamber and Miller had several pointed exchanges with Johnson, at one point asking her not to raise her voice to him.

At one point, during a discussion of data Johnson wanted the Chamber to provide, a frustrated Miller said, “if we asked the Chamber real nicely, I’ll bet they would do it.”

That brought rousing applause from the crowd, to which Johnson replied: “That’s the Chamber board out there. We’re having a Chamber meeting.”

Johnson said she felt one section of the proposed contract, which was not discussed, “was a direct insult to me.”

‘WHY?’— Several Chamber board members asked why some council members had, in their view, targeted the Chamber.

“What’s the problem?” Michelle Morgan asked. “I don’t understand what the Chamber has not done. We haven’t heard anyone say we’ve done anything wrong.”

“If there’s a problem, let us fix it,” Deedra Jacob said. “If there’s not, let’s get on with business. This is ridiculous.”

Chamber President Denice Doss said she had detected a change in attitude.

“I’ve been in this job 10 years,” she said. “The council always trusted us to spend this money correctly. I’m not feeling that these days. I trust the city. I expect the city to trust us.”

The Chamber expects to collect about $120,000 in hotel/motel tax during the next year with about $45,000 left over from previous years.

“In the big scope of things, I think they (Chamber) do a good job,” Miller said. “We could do some of our council meetings better, too.”

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2010-11-18 digital edition

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