Copperas Cove city council approves distributing HOT funds to the Chamber of Commerce
By LYNETTE SOWELL
The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce made its reports to the Copperas Cove city council on Tuesday evening, for the first two quarters of the 2022-2023 fiscal year visitor bureau operations.
Interim chamber president and board chair Nancy Nelson requested a total of $15,163.15 of the city’s hotel occupancy tax funds, for visitor bureau operations, which is 60 percent of their operating costs for the first six months of the fiscal year.
The first quarter payment is $7,329.95 and the second quarter payment is $7,833.20.
The city council voted on the quarters separately, after councilmember John Hale made a motion to do so. The vote was 4-3, with Joann Courtland, John Hale, Manuel Montanez, Vonya Hart voting in favor of considering the quarters separately; and Fred Chavez, Shawn Alzona, and Jack Smith voting against it.
The chamber has a marketing agreement with the City of Copperas Cove, and in that marketing agreement, the chamber is required to present quarterly reports on its activities to receive reimbursement for its allocated expenses.
Councilmember Manuel Montanez pointed out that requirement to the interim chamber president, Nancy Nelson.
Former chamber of commerce president/CEO Alicia Menard, who is assisting the chamber in a consultant role with getting them caught up on their reports, was also present for the meeting via phone and weighed in on the lag in reporting by the chamber – which had one point had been one year.
She acknowledged that the chamber has been “out of compliance” with its reporting.
Chamber lagged with providing reports to council, Menard says: "We have a plan"
The chamber hadn’t made any activity and reimbursement reports/requests to the city council since October 2021, until Nelson made a presentation at the Oct. 18, 2022 meeting. At that point, the council agreed to release funds to the chamber for its October 2021-December 2021 expenses, totaling $23,521.93. The council also directed the city manager to prepare a future budget amendment, allocating HOT funds from fiscal year 2020-2021 to fiscal year 2022-2023, for the visitor bureau.
Silvia Spires, whom the chamber hired in August 2021, made no reports to the council and ultimately resigned shortly after the 2022 Rabbit Fest, less than one year into the job.
Then, in August 2022, both remaining staff members resigned from their positions, leaving the chamber with zero paid staff until the hiring of a membership director in the fall of 2022.
In February, Nelson told the council at its annual retreat that the chamber would not be looking to hire a new president/CEO until the end of the year.
On Tuesday, Montanez questioned the first quarter report for visitor bureau operations.
“I'm having issues with looking at the first quarter 2023 presentation packet, event promotion information. Newspaper money spent – zero; radio, TV – zero; other paid advertising – zero. How are we promoting Copperas Cove?”
Menard gave an explanation for what the chamber was doing to promote Copperas Cove tourism from October through December 2022.
“So as far as actual tourism promotions that promote Copperas Cove as a whole, with the media market that we had done in the past, there are certain deadlines that you have to meet for those. For instance, we are scheduled to be back in Texas Highways magazine. I'm going to submit the creative content in July and that will be the advertising you'll see in the magazine in September.
“To give you an idea, when you're looking at overall promotions for the city of Copperas Cove, there is a schedule and unfortunately with the situation that the Chamber has undergone since my leaving, they weren't on point with those deadlines.”
Menard further told the council that the chamber “had to prioritize what they needed to do and the first prioritization was to keep the doors open of the Visitor Bureau, maintain the operations and maintenance, and make sure that there was a physical place for people to go when they come to Copperas Cove needing information, or to call or to visit online. And they accomplished all those things. They kept that in place. The tourism advertising? Yes, that was lacking.”
Menard assured the council the chamber will “finish this fiscal year strong. We have a plan.”
She added that the chamber will be back in tourtexas.com with a Copperas Cove page set to launch by August, the Texas events calendar will be back advertising as of September 1, as well as Texas Hill Country magazine.
Menard told the council although there were no dollars spent promoting Copperas Cove, the chamber advertised on free websites for events during that quarter.
“So though you're seeing those zero-dollar signs, there were other advertising things done and they were on all the free pages and free calendars that they could resource and that were accessible to them during that quarter.
“Then they were in the planning stages to execute getting back in line with all of the other media and publications that are out there so that we could meet their deadlines.”
She also reminded the council that tourism promotions took place but they are associated with specific events that will be presented to the council in a post-event report in the future.
For example, the chamber has not yet reported on its tourism expenses for Krist Kindl Markt which took in December 2022, a little more than six months ago.
“So it's not that there hasn't been any tourism promotion taking place. It's just the ones that that fell through were the overall promotion for the city of Copperas Cove. But like I said, they were utilizing what resources that they could get in line as far as deadlines. The majority of those were free resources.”
After the discussion, a motion was made to approve the first quarter payment to the chamber, which narrowly passed with the same 4-3 vote by the councilmembers.
The second quarter payment eventually passed with a unanimous vote of 7-0.
Menard addresses chamber board vacancies
During the discussions, Menard told the council that the chamber has lost “several board members” due to “unforeseen reasons and circumstances” and have resigned “effective immediately.”
She told the council that she will be back in Copperas Cove the week of June 12-15, and she will be focused on establishing a nominating committee to elect new board members, “and this is all in compliance with our bylaws that we have to do everything moving forward with the board and rebuilding the foundation of the chamber and the management style of the visitor bureau.”
After that, the plan, Menard said, is to “advertise and call for resumes and bios for those interested in serving, that you'll see published in the local papers as well as online. Then the nominating committee will review the resumes and bios received and conduct interviews. After the committee completes that process, a ballot will be composed and emailed to all team members, strategic partners and stakeholders.
“And just so you know, the nominating committee can be made up of chamber membership as well as any of our stakeholders and strategic partners. It cannot be made up of any current or any current board members or any of the executive committee of the board. We're going to work to fill those positions which I find to be very exciting. I think we all should be excited about that. It's going to bring new visions, new ideas, creativity to the board and to both tourism and the Chamber moving forward.”
During her week in Copperas Cove, Menard will be working with the chamber on a preliminary strategic plan for both the Visitor Bureau and the chamber, which will be presented during the quarterly meeting on June 13. She said she will also be present at the city’s entities summit on June 14. She also plans to be in town, conducting staff training, finishing up any other reporting any other reconciling that needs to be done.
“We already are on the books with the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association for them to come and conduct a training with the new board once those members are in place…we are shooting for a fall time timeframe for that.
She said she wanted to assure the council, the mayor and the city manager that “what you're going to see happen in the next three months is going to be amazing and you're going to see a chamber that's going to prosper with strength, unity, and everything that you've been asking since February and I give you my word on that.”