Bensman disagrees with mayor’s Visit Lake Norman email
by Staff Writer
I want to correct some errors in the letter to the editor from Mayor Tarte printed in the Herald last week.
The makeup of the Visit Lake Norman board has been a major concern of the towns for a long time. Having three votes on a 16-member board did not give the towns enough votes to influence decisions. Many decisions are made by the executive board and nominating committee, where the towns have no representation. Resolving the make-up of these groups is central in the negotiations with Visit Lake Norman to assure proper government oversight of the expenditure of taxpayer funds.
The only leverage the towns had under the now-expired interlocal was the option to reduce or eliminate funding. To say that nothing has changed with legislation that contains no language requiring oversight is patently false. The legislation left the towns with no power to influence Visit Lake Norman actions, guaranteeing funding forever without any oversight requirement. Since the legislation did not specify when the towns are to pay the tourism funds to Visit Lake Norman, the agency has to negotiate the governance issue with the Towns. Negotiations are now proceeding in the right direction.
The formation of the Mayors Tourism Task Force was done without the knowledge or approval of the Cornelius town board. Indeed, at the Cornelius board meeting immediately following the task force announcement, the Cornelius board voted 4-0 (with Commissioner Chuck Travis absent) to terminate any involvement in such a task force. There is no “we” in anything related to this effort.
The mayors discussed reducing funding to Visit Lake Norman at that time and triggered the rush to Raleigh for legislation. Reducing funding was not the intention of the Cornelius town board, but we had concerns about its performance, and Commissioner Lynette Rinker was working on that issue.
Cornelius Finance Director Jackie Huffman analyzed the Visit Lake Norman audit and questioned the rental payment amount and the deposit of agency funds at troubled CommunityOne Bank. Rinker, with help from Town Manager Anthony Roberts and me, worked diligently for months to resolve this matter amicably. To my knowledge, no Cornelius elected or staff personnel have made any harsh public statements.
Speaker Thom Tillis was aware of the governance issue, as was Rep. Beverly Earle, who met with town representatives in Raleigh in May. Tillis has recently worked on getting the parties to the table.
Once this is over, I am confident everyone will focus on mending relationships. Signing an interlocal just ends the first phase. Forming a new board and improving the performance of Visit Lake Norman will take longer.
– Jim Bensman, Cornelius commissioner