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Kaplan should go, McCoy should stay

by Jim Longworth

At first glance it would seem that a squabble over tourism in Forsyth County would be of no interest to anyone in Greensboro, Asheville, Raleigh or Charlotte. To the contrary, those cities and others are just waiting for Forsyth County Commissioner Ted Kaplan to succeed in his ill-conceived crusade to fire Tourism Development Authority President Bob McCoy. That’s because for over a decade conventions, meetings and tournaments have come to Winston-Salem primarily on the reputation of McCoy and his staff. Absent of those fine professionals, there is every indication that such events will opt for a different venue where they will receive the same quality of service they’ve come to expect from McCoy’s TDA. But according to comparative data collected and reported on by both the Winston-Salem Journal and by Appalachian State University professor Dr. J. Dana Clark, those conventioneers and sports fans will have to go far to find another Bob McCoy. Year in and year out, McCoy manages to bring in millions of travel and tourism dollars with a smaller staff and leaner budget than other similarly sized communities. I have also read stacks of letters and e-mails written to and on behalf of McCoy from various travel associations and convention brokers, praising the TDA. And I’ve seen not even one complaint has ever been lodged against McCoy and his organization. So why would Kaplan (who is both a commissioner and a member of the TDA Board) launch a campaign to remove McCoy? Why would Kaplan charge that McCoy has mismanaged the TDA? Why would Kaplan claim that McCoy’s agency is top-heavy and that it overspends on administration? I don’t mean to deify McCoy – who is, after all a mere mortal – but Kaplan’s crusade is akin to the mayor of Metropolis asking Superman to leave town because crime is down. I’ve spoken with Kaplan, and I found him to be very cordial and engaging. I also know that he is educated and literate. Yet for some unknown reason he either fails to read reports or persists in ignoring facts that would demonstrate the folly of his actions. And so what would drive a man to become obsessed with dismantling one of the most successful and fiscally sound tourism authorities in the country? I can suggest several theories. THEORY ONE Ted Kaplan is a politician. Politicians rely on supporters to raise money for their campaigns, and to advocate for elections. There is nothing wrong with that. But it gets a little fuzzy when a politician tries to redirect monies from a state chartered tourism authority into various organizations headed by his friends and political supporters. It is no secret that Arts Council President Milton Rhodes is a friend and supporter of Mr. Kaplan. Recently Mr. Rhodes came under fire from me and other journalists for accepting a $3-million pledge from Hanesbrands CEO Richard Noll, given Noll’s decision to lay off nearly 14,000 American workers. In the face of the criticism leveled at Rhodes and Noll, the Winston-Salem City Council decided not to allocate another $5 million to the Arts Council for a renovation project. Within days of that funding rejection, Kaplan launched his public campaign in which he proposed to repeal the hotel occupancy tax if changes weren’t made at the TDA. Kaplan told me that he made no promises of additional funding to Rhodes, but other sources have told me that if the authority was dismantled and monies re-allocated, the Arts Council would be in line for more money. THEORY TWO Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson told the Winston-Salem Journal, “It is inconceivable to me that one person could make all this happen, even Ted.” She’s right. Kaplan needed some help to launch and sustain his character assassination of McCoy, and he got it from Anderson. I have an e-mail from someone who attended a recent Rotary Club meeting in which Anderson criticized McCoy and portrayed the TDA as being mismanaged. What Anderson didn’t tell the Rotarians or admit to the media is that when the chamber managed the TDA, it charged McCoy $400,000 a year to process payroll and provide HR services. McCoy finally severed the relationship when he discovered that the county could provide the identical services for a mere $32,000 a year. In her defense, Anderson was not president when that arrangement was made between the COC and the TDA, but she has been disingenuous to say the least by publicly suggesting that McCoy is not fiscally responsible. Should Kaplan succeed in removing McCoy and dismantling the TDA, it’s possible that the chamber could regain some administrative control or at least play a role in the new regime. If so, that could translate to big bucks for the chamber pot, and additional power for Anderson. THEORY THREE Kaplan has admitted to me and to others that he remarked in public about McCoy’s sexual orientation in the context of how McCoy secured a job at the Visitors Center for his partner. In truth, TDA board member Hobie Caewood advised McCoy that it was okay to make the hire, saying the person was the most qualified candidate, and that such a decision violated no rules since the man would not have worked for or directly reported to McCoy. When several witnesses to Kaplan’s remarks told McCoy of what they heard, Bob filed a complaint against Kaplan with the ACLU, then withdrew it in the spirit of trying to help the TDA move forward in a positive way. Meanwhile, Kaplan also derided TDA staffers at a recent meeting of the Forsyth County Commissioners. Several TDA employees had worked through their lunch hour that day so they could attend the meeting, and simply observe from the back of the room. Still, Kaplan went out of his way to single them out, saying, “We pay them six-hundred dolars an hour to do their jobs. Thank you for being here.” Kaplan’s comment led witnesses to believe that TDA staff is paid by local taxpayers. They are not. TDA staff is paid by the hotel occupancy tax collected from overnight visitors. Sylvia Hutchens, a sales coordinator at the TDA who attended the meeting told the Winston-Salem Journal that she felt “attacked and threatened.” Kaplan told me he has no personal prejudices against anyone on the TDA, but some of his public comments send a mixed signal in that regard. Clearly, Kaplan was out of line with his remark directed toward the TDA staff, and he is out of line by taking his complaints to the newspaper and to the county commissioners rather than to the TDA Board, of which he is a member. And that brings me to June 17. That’s the day the TDA board is scheduled to meet in executive session to discuss this mess. Several sources, including board members, have told me that Ted has indicated he wants them to join him in firing McCoy at next week’s meeting. That would be a big mistake. I have served on a number of high-profile boards and committees, including as president of a Chamber of Commerce, so I know a little something about how a board is supposed to function. No board member (or county commissioner) should use his position to publicly deride and criticize TDA staff. And no single board member should be allowed to launch and sustain a unilateral crusade to disrupt the organization and remove its leadership when facts suggest that such action would be detrimental to the mission of the TDA. In my opinion, the TDA board should remove Kaplan next week instead of debating the merits of firing McCoy. Tourism is doing very well here in Metropolis. Let Superman do his job, and let’s get rid of Lex Luthor instead.

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