The ongoing saga between the Tri-County Lodging Association (TCLA), its relationship with county government and members of the public skeptical of its practices continues.

The ongoing saga between the Tri-County Lodging Association (TCLA), its relationship with county government and members of the public skeptical of its practices continues.

The latest chapter involved an open discussion at the Camden County Courthouse on Monday with each in attendance, addressing their concerns.

“Hatifleds and McCoys,” a member of the audience quipped to the sound of laughter, referencing a popular feud between two American families in West Virginia and Kentucky that spanned over a century.

Camden County Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty certainly hopes this current quarrel- highlighted by the proposal of a destination soccer complex in Osage Beach that was to be funded with an increase in lodging taxes for Camden, Miller and Morgan Counties before being substantially voted down- can be resolved much sooner.

“It is pretty clear right now that substantial problems exist with the way things have been going. It is in the best interest of our community to work together. We want our lake to grow and need to have someone operating for us in a collective effort,” Hasty stated, noting the formation of TCLA itself was a good thing to have all three counties working together for the common good and the effort put forth to have a legal framework to operate under and abide by.

“It would be damaging to let this fall apart. Restructuring will take place and I’m not sure how it will happen, but we need to be really calm and deliberate and sort out what is going on. Take whatever measures necessary to get this fixed,” he continued, also remarking that he has watched groups “fight each other for scraps at the table” since the 70s in an area where the standard of living is less than the average of other places in the country.

“I love this lake, care about it and would like to see a comprehensive plan to make the economy diversify and grow.”

With that being said, Hasty noted the soccer complex may be a blessing to “sort things out” and remarked that the commission first became involved when TCLA members came forward less than a month ago with concerns of TCLA operating within the law. He also emphasized that if executed properly, the soccer complex would have been a “great addition.”

“Quite frankly, we have not liked what we’ve seen,” he said Monday after the commission became involved.

The commissioner addressed his history with TCLA, noting the relationship had not really existed prior to 2016, and some points of contention with the organization including discussions at meetings of “leveling the playing field” to make short-term rentals of less than 30 days illegal or tightly regulated statewide where they would have to meet the same requirements of a hotel. With 71 percent of homes in Camden County owned by people who do not reside there full time, he felt this was “dangerous” because people actually being at the Lake make the economy grow and people generally feel more secure knowing they have the option of a short-term rental if they choose to go that route.

Hasty, the only county official present on Monday, announced his official letter of resignation from his advisory role on the TCLA Board.

“Based on what I’ve seen taking place the last two weeks, I have no intention of continuing to serve on a board when they are having meetings outside of what I believe is their authority under the statute to do so,” Hasty said, referencing his ongoing lack of notification for TCLA meetings and a meeting in particular on November 15 that was supposedly called to discuss his resignation letter and the response of the TCLA before being cancelled when members of the press and public showed up.

The commissioner said he went back through records of TCLA meetings and knew of two he absolutely attended, but was apparently on the record for attending three more when the Camden County Commission was holding meetings at the exact same time. He also pointed out that through all of TCLA’s meetings in 2018 and 2019, all but one was scheduled at the same time as a commission meeting.

“Based on the way they are doing things right now, if I was a member of their advisory board- and I never agreed to it- I cannot imagine a situation occurring where someone would be required to be a member of a board outside of their desire to serve,” Hasty continued.

Sue Westenhaver, a TCLA board member, came forward to address Hasty’s remarks noting the organization sought to establish a relationship with him when he was first elected and that the commissioner regularly gets a packet with everything that is going to be on the agenda and what took place in the previous month.

“If because things have changed over the years and we need to make adjustments, we are happy to make the adjustments and want to be transparent,” she said, noting everything had been done right under statute.

“Just as this county was audited for poor practices, TCLA has been audited and the last was several years ago. We don’t have anything we want to hide.”

Hasty never specifically addressed this remark, but other members of the audience put forth their concern that announcements of TCLA meetings needed to be communicated more effectively than posting it on the door of a building.

Westenhaver also referred to a previous meeting where all three commissioners and board members discussed the power point of the soccer complex.

“You know all the good things we do with the money we have available. I think the soccer thing is done, we got your message loud and clear so let’s move on,” she said to all in the room.

In numerous ways, though, the back and forth continued.

Gail Griswold, the owner of Shawnee Bluff Winery, said she could not find any documents that show where all six members in each county acknowledged a nonprofit organization like TCLA as an entity to serve them.

Later on, another member of the audience addressed the room with the origin of the TCLA, pointing out that the original vote from the 90s lawfully created business districts within each county that then turned around and created the TCLA as an association for the business districts to work together. However, whether all six board positions comprised of lodging owners (two for small, medium and large) in each of the three counties must all be fulfilled remained unclear.

Hasty then came back in to declare that no current valid contract exists between TCLA and Camden County to collect or disseminate tax dollars. Any time an elected official leaves office, a new contract must be established with at least the current county collector and Hasty said a judge may have to decide whether the collector can even enter the contract without the approval of the presiding commissioner. Therefore, there has been no contract Hasty is aware of since at least 2011 when Vicky Burns was the collector. The presiding commissioner said it falls upon the entity to establish a new contract.

Another point of discussion, as has been previously raised, is the validity of elections for the TCLA board and what authority the commission has in overseeing the election. Like any action the commission takes, Hasty said this will be addressed by legal counsel as they look for clearcut guidelines to the extent of their authority, but he noted the commission does have the ability to put in rules and regulations. Westenhaver also addressed this point saying ballots are notarized and not opened prior to when they are supposed to, but the TCLA will make sure everything is in order with all three counties.

Speaking of elections, it was also brought up that annual elections for the business districts in all three counties are coming up in February and that all but three positions are up for election.

In the meantime, Hasty advised the TCLA that an audit may be a good step towards fixing any issues, including a performance audit as well as “virtually 100 percent” of the issues in Camden County’s own audit from the state auditor have been fixed. It may be hard he said, but it is better to fix what is broken than “throwing up your hands and giving up.”

“No elected official that was here liked the fact that we were going to have a Democratic auditor, when this is virtually a 100 percent Republican county government, to come in and pick us apart, but we did it,” he recalled.

“If there are problems with the way we are operating at TCLA or the business district, let’s identify those problems and fix them. I don’t like the fact that we are using our tourism funds to promote tourism to move that in a direction where it begins to pick winners and losers between one part of our economy and the other. We need to find a way to work together. We are not always going to agree, but certainly there is a framework where that can happen.”

The next step for the commission was a closed session with legal counsel Tuesday morning and Hasty said an official public meeting will be held in the near future regarding a released legal opinion and questions from TCLA.