Council should scrutinize how CVB spends money

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Last week the Business Journal reported about the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s refusal to disclose details about how it plans to spend the $2.4 million in tax money it is getting from the city this year.

The story revealed how blindly the Colorado Springs City Council and CVB board accept that if-asked-don’t-tell situation.

During the course of the newspaper’s reporting, we discovered that, because of its nonprofit status, the CVB is not required by law to disclose details about how it spends tax money.

State law treats the CVB as if it were like any other nonprofit that receives tax money, though few receive as much as the CVB.

CEO Doug Price feels no moral obligation to be accountable to the voters who approved the lodging and rental tax from which his organization receives much of its money.

Instead, Price feels his moral obligation is to the private marketing and branding organizations that benefit from contract work with the CVB. Price said the CVB is contractually bound to withhold their prices — in effect protecting their competitive pricing edge.

If that is true, if Price is committed to secrecy by the contracts, that needs to change.

Private companies doing business with the federal government — think Lockheed Martin and Boeing — are used to disclosing their prices through the public bidding process, something that ensures public money is being spent in the best way possible.

Maybe public bidding should be required of the CVB.

It’s our hope that state lawmakers will examine the loophole of sorts that allows a CVB to receive and spend so much tax money with so little public transparency.

We have no reason to suspect that Doug Price and the CVB are mismanaging public money or are engaging in any fraudulent activities, but then again, we just don’t know.

Saying the CVB has no public accountability is not entirely true. The City Council could order an audit of its spending at any time.

But, considering what two councilors had to say about the matter, that doesn’t appear likely to happen soon.

Councilman Tim Leigh said he prefers to trust Price with the money.

“They’re professional marketers … we should let them do their jobs,” he told the Business Journal’s reporter. “We need to trust the people in power to do their jobs. If he’s within the budget, that’s good enough.”

That’s either a lazy or an irresponsible attitude, or maybe a combination of both. Any government agency, any organization, any company is capable of misusing money.

And, we’re not really sure what Councilwoman Jan Martin thinks.

In her first interview with a reporter, Martin said the CVB should be more transparent. Later after speaking with Price, she called the reporter and said the CVB has “an exciting and wonderful message” that shouldn’t be dampened by concern about their line-item budgets.

Neither Martin nor Leigh made a convincing case for allowing the CVB to ignore the taxpayers’ right to know how their money is spent.

Even Susan Edmondson, a member of the CVB board, said it’s not the board’s role to question the organization’s spending or transparency.

That’s concerning. We don’t need boards or a City Council populated by nice, trusting people. We want representatives who question everything.