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Wednesday, 22 August 2007 00:00

TDA changes ramrodded by county manager

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By Scot Warf

As past chairman of the Swain County Tourism Development Authority (TDA), I feel compelled to share with the community the events surrounding the recent hostile takeover of the Swain County TDA. In the fall of 2006, Kevin King, Swain County Administrator and Finance Officer, called me to ask whether the TDA would be interested in a new visitor center facility. I told him I would have to ask my board members to get their feelings on the issue. Mr. King told me that he would rather that I not ask too many of our board members because he wanted to keep this issue quiet.

He finally decided to let the full board in on the secret at a board meeting later that year. Since the move would involve a tax increase of 1 percent added to the occupancy tax, I requested that the chamber send out an email notifying our lodging owners and others, in order to get their input. After the board meeting, Mr. King asked the Chamber Director and Chamber President not to send out an email or inform the public in any way because of a possible public backlash.

Mr. King continued with his efforts, according to his words, “behind the scenes” to draft legislation to be passed by the state General Assembly. He did not consult with or even inform any board member of the TDA on this legislation during the drafting phase. Quite by accident, a Swain County lodging operator happened upon this legislation at a regular commissioner meeting. Needless to say, the legislation contained in it a few surprises that were not agreed upon by the TDA board at any time.

It was then that the public got involved at two separate meetings of the TDA, one without Mr. King present, and then one with him present. It was the general public consensus that the tax should not be raised, and the TDA should not be paying for the “unspecified capital improvements” that appeared in the bill. As of this date, the legislation still contains measures for both, with the “promise” that taxes won’t be raised in the near-term by the commissioners.

It appears now that Mr. King’s sole intention in his clandestine takeover of the TDA was to loot the budget of this organization for “unspecified capital improvements.” What does this mean to the tourism industry in Swain County?

It means that the sole purpose of the TDA will be altered from marketing your business to funding “unspecified capital improvements.” In other words, less money is going to be spent marketing your business, and you will have to pick up the slack with your own dollars to maintain your business at its current level.

I’m sure that Mr. King has told Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, and Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, that the tourism industry is behind this measure and that any rough spots have been smoothed over. As past chairman of the TDA, I can tell you that this is simply not the truth.

The people of Swain County are squarely against this measure.

(Scot Warf is the former chairman of the Swain County ourism Development Authority. He lives in Bryson City.)

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