Request to fund Macon-Bibb CVB search rejected

With the current Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau president retiring soon, two members of the CVB hiring committee Monday lobbied the city for $8,500 to help fund a search for Janice Marshall’s replacement.

But facing a $2 million deficit in the current fiscal year’s budget, members of the City Council’s Appropriations Committee voted 4-1 against the request even though they recognized the significance of the position. Only Councilman Tom Ellington supported the measure.

Speaking as CVB board chairman-elect, Steve Jukes, community president of Capital City Bank, told the committee there’s no money in the CVB budget for the $45,000 cost to hire a company called Search Wide.

Funded chiefly by the hotel-motel tax, the CVB is responsible for attracting tourists and conventions to Macon and Bibb County but is separate from both governments, although each has a representative on the CVB board.

Ellington noted that state CVB lobbyists have worked against Macon’s efforts to get hotel-motel tax funding to keep the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. But he still supported the measure Monday because he said he considers the position valuable to the future of the city.

“If we don’t get a very good person in that position, we’re going to regret it for a very it a long time,” Ellington said.

Bluntly, City Council President Miriam Paris said, “We’ve endured 27 years (of Marshall’s tenure).”

Paris advocates hiring a CVB leader who will think “way outside the box” to promote Macon.

After Monday’s meeting, Paris didn’t want to address specific issues related to Marshall but said she wants the next director to “come in and take a good inventory of our city” to be able to promote more of the city’s assets to attract younger people of a greater diversity. She pointed to the success of the city’s large number of festivals celebrating film, music and other cultural attractions.

Reached by phone, Marshall refused to respond directly to Paris’ remarks. In defense of her tenure with the CVB, she said, “I think it speaks for itself, my dear.”

Theresa Robinson, external manager for Georgia Power who is heading up the CVB search committee, said, “We knew from other conversations that certain stakeholders wanted to see a change. We felt we needed to find the very best candidate.”

She said the new CVB executive would make between $90,000 and $100,000 a year.

Councilman James Timley questioned whether it’s appropriate for the city to contribute to the search, saying the Bibb County schools superintendent position is “more important” than the CVB head.

“What do we do when they come asking for money? That’s their responsibility,” he said about the possibility the school board or any other entity with its own tax-funded budget would ask for money from the city.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Mike Cranford said the timing of the request is awkward because of the city’s budget crunch and the fact the fiscal year is more than two-thirds over.

“(It) bothers me when people start the process and then come to us and say, ‘By the way, we need you to pony up,’’’ Cranford said.

Robinson, however, said she made a presentation in February before the search began.

In the end, it came down to the dollars.

Other “community stakeholders” — Bibb County, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, Georgia Power, AT&T and an anonymous donor — already have agreed to put money toward the CVB search.

To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.