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Tourism board member replaced

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GREENFIELD — Another proponent of change in how local tourism is touted has been removed from the Hancock County Tourism Commission.

Joni Romeril-Cox was not re-appointed to the commission. Her term expired, and Hancock County Commissioners on Tuesday appointed Rosalie Richardson to take her place.

The move follows Mayor Dick Pasco’s decision in August to remove Ellen Fischer, another vocal advocate for change, from the board. The commission is made up of a mix of city and county appointees; the commissioners re-appointed Brigette Jones and Earl Smith to the commission on Tuesday.

The tourism commission, which formed in 2011 to oversee revenue from the county’s 4 percent innkeeper’s tax, has had a difficult time as members have clashed over how money should be handled. Some favor doling out most of the money to the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which has long been charged with promoting tourism in the county. Others – like Romeril-Cox – advocated a new approach and criticized bureau director Dave Scott for not doing enough to bring visitors to the area.

One of the main points of contention has been the idea of a new welcome center. Proponents such as Romeril-Cox and Fischer argued the county needs a place where visitors can get information about places to visit. Now, racks of visitor information are stacked in an office on the second floor of the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, which the bureau runs.

Fischer was removed from the commission in August of last year by Mayor Dick Pasco. He said at the time Fischer’s political affiliation was the reason; she suggested her removal from the board may have had something to do with her support for a welcome center.

Tuesday, the commissioners unanimously decided to appoint Richardson to replace Romeril-Cox. Commissioner Brad Armstrong said after the meeting that Romeril-Cox had been difficult to work with.

“We were real big on not wanting to increase re-occurring expenses, like employees,” Armstrong said. “And she really went against that and was really trying to put staffing in a visitors center. They’re our appointments; the board of commissioners makes those appointments. When we talk to our appointees and say, ‘This is the direction we want you to go,’ and you go in the opposite direction, you’re not going to be re-appointed.”

Commissioner Tom Stevens could not be reached for comment after the meeting. Commissioner President Derek Towle said he approved of the change at the recommendation of the other two commissioners; he said he wasn’t involved in making the decision.

When the Hancock County Tourism Commission formed in 2011, it turned around how innkeeper tax money is passed out in the community. Roughly $200,000 is generated annually from visitors who stay at hotels in Hancock County.

For a decade, the tax money had been overseen by the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, which operates the Ricks Centre. But county elected officials decided the nonprofit bureau should not be getting the money directly, so it set up the government-appointed commission to oversee the revenue.

Since its formation, tourism commission members have clashed over how to work with the bureau. Armstrong said he’d like to see the two groups work together.

Armstrong said he’s talked to several people about Romeril-Cox, including Scott and Greg Carwein, who is a member of both the tourism commission and the visitors bureau.

“She was not pleasant to work with, was the general consensus of other people that had to work with her. It wasn’t a good working environment,” Armstrong said. “Those two boards have to work together. They don’t have to agree on everything, but they have to carry on civil discussion, and I don’t think that was being done.”

Romeril-Cox said she was disappointed in the move but somewhat expected it when she did not hear responses from commissioners about her re-appointment.

“In some regards, I’m upset about it. In some regards, I’m kind of relieved,” she said. “I’ve been in politics in Marion County, and in Marion County you can agree to disagree. But in small-town politics, you can’t agree to disagree and it seems to become personal, so that was one of the hesitations I had about volunteering for this. I think (this) just proves the point.”

Romeril-Cox said she wasn’t in favor of hiring additional employees when she spoke about the new welcome center. Rather, she said Scott could have manned the welcome center part time along with volunteers.

She said it’s been hard to determine what county officials want.

“If you disagree, then you’re ‘hard to work with,’ and if you’re advocating for something that they don’t want, then you’re ‘hard to work with.’ It’s a lot of headache,” she said.

Romeril-Cox was the treasurer of the group, and she said she spent a lot of hours understanding how to account for funds. In some ways, she said, the formation of the tourism commission has brought positive change to the community.

She said the tourism commission makes the distribution of tax money more transparent, but she also said the community is still far behind in promoting events.

Scott, she said, should be communicating more with each community in Hancock County. She wants a comprehensive list of upcoming community events online, and she said the county’s director of tourism should be more proactive.

Scott said he did not want to comment directly on Romeril-Cox’s statements. Scott said he was grateful for her service to the commission but was looking forward to working with Richardson.

Richardson was welcomed to the tourism commission at the group’s monthly meeting Tuesday evening.

“I had hoped sometime to be on the tourism board; I didn’t know it would be this fast,” said Richardson, who just stepped down from the county council after three terms.

Richardson is president of Greenfield Historic Landmarks and has also served on the Old National Road board and a statewide subcommittee that looked into federal grants for groups.

Richardson said she’s looking forward to serving on the tourism commission and has several ideas. She’d like visitors that come to one event in the county to be told about other upcoming events, for example. She’d also like to see more informational signs along Interstate 70 to tell motorists about the natural and historic landmarks here.

In addition to Jones, Smith and Carwein, other members of the tourism commission are Kelly McClarnon, Tom Cone and David Dellacca. Dellacca has been president of the commission since it started, and he is now one of the only members in favor of a new welcome center.

There is $50,000 set aside in the commission’s 2013 budget for a new center, though the group has not identified where to rent space or whether some of the funds would be used for renovations.

Dellacca said the thought of additional employees to oversee a new welcome center is a misunderstanding. The group has talked about hiring a part-time employee, but discussions have been very preliminary.

Dellacca said it’s hard to tell what direction the group will take in the future.

“Hopefully, with any other new people coming to the commission, we can continue to try to move forward with some progressive thoughts and ideas,” he said. “There’s really just not a whole lot of clear direction from the commissioners right now as to all of their expectations. I think perhaps with this new appointment, we’ll have a better understanding of what their desires are.”

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