Originally created 05/20/05

Tourism agency remains together



The Augusta area's tourism agency nearly split Thursday after infighting among board members.

The Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau on Thursday narrowly averted severing ties with Columbia County in what some board members called an apparent case of miscommunication.

In an April 20 letter sent to the agency, Columbia County officials said they wanted to discuss breaking away from the organization, contending that the county's investment in the group wasn't paying off.

The bureau, taking the letter at face value, told the county it was ready to initiate a divorce.

"As Columbia County pursues its own tourism promotion efforts, the (bureau) will gladly offer our expertise in assisting with the creation of a destination marketing strategy," according to a bureau task force memorandum presented at Thursday's meeting. "We wish Columbia County great success in marketing itself as a visitor destination and we are grateful to have been part of Columbia County's success."

The bureau's swift action prompted Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross, who received the memo Wednesday, to backpedal.

"We were disappointed that we were not included in the (decision-making) process," said Mr. Cross, adding that the April 20 letter was meant to start a dialogue on the topic.

Bureau board members said they interpreted the letter as a severance request.

"The feeling of the committee at this time was to make a decision on a proposal we had in hand from you," Bureau Chairwoman Sandra Fenstermacher said to Mr. Cross, who is also a board member.

Stopping short of a motion to cut ties with Columbia County, board members then voted to reopen negotiations.

Ms. Fenstermacher said she's hopeful the bureau can work out a plan to keep Columbia County as a component.

Mr. Cross said one of his biggest demands is for the bureau to hire a full-time employee representing Columbia County.

"We're (treated as) a stepchild and not incorporated in a lot of the ultimate decisions," Mr. Cross said.

Although a date was not set, further negotiations will take place soon, bureau board members said.

Reach Adrian Burns at (706) 823-3352 or adrian.burns@augustachronicle.com.

What's Next:

Despite disagreements between Columbia County officials and the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, the two groups will continue to work to reconcile their differences, with the hope that the bureau will not split.