Tourism questions: Representative can’t have it both ways

For the second time in a couple weeks, state Rep. Rick Mirabito leveled some haymakers at the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau at a recent town hall meeting.

Mirabito, a Democrat who represents the Williamsport area, accused the group of not being “transparent” and questioned its procedures and spending priorities for the tourism money, which is generated mostly by a local hotel room tax.

Asked if he had met personally with the chamber’s board members, Mirabito responded, “I don’t respond to a meeting like a lap dog.”

The last that we checked, the chamber is part of Rep. Mirabito’s constituency, so turning down a meeting with the organization, which happens to be the major clearinghouse for business, industry and economic development in his area, is flat out wrong.

Putting that aside, if Mirabito would meet with the chamber officials, he would find out that about 10 percent of the hotel tax money is used for administration costs, a low number. He would find out the tourism expenditures are audited annually and that meetings with the county commissioners, who oversee the hotel tax, are held monthly.

He would find out the hotel tax money, while generated locally, is limited to specific uses by the state convention marketing, leisure and business travel marketing, out-of-county advertising, publicity, publications, direct sales and industry trade shows, promotion of tourism efforts and improvement and expansion of the county as a designation market.

He also would find out that tourism bureaus generally are run on financial shoestrings and separating the joint logistics of the chamber of commerce and the tourism bureau would be potentially disastrous. Joint administrative salaries and the combining of agency operations are a necessity in today’s economic climate. It’s called efficiency.

If the representative knows all this and doesn’t like how the money is being distributed within the framework or doesn’t agree with some of its other tourism procedures, then that is all the more reason for him to meet with the people who are making the decisions.

If he believes there should be other uses for the money, he should push for legislation on the state level that makes those uses eligible.

What we don’t accept is accusations that a group within his constituency is not transparent, all the while turning down meetings with the group.

At the very least, that is unprofessional. But frankly, it amounts to failure to appropriately represent constituents both those within the chamber framework and those wanting answers on how the $983,061 tourism budget is executed.

We wonder if there is some shadow lobbying going on here from some people who wish more tourism money were being spent in certain areas or on certain pet projects.

We wonder if this is a control issue, since this crusade appears to be about something more than just transparency.

We wonder why, at a time when the state budget, pensions, liquor store privatization and education funding are big issues, this seems to be at the top of the representative’s agenda.

What we are left with is, at the very least, the appearance of contempt for the business community. If true, that is very disappointing.

A state representative’s responsibility is, after all, to represent all constituents. And when there are differences with a group, the representative’s obligation on behalf of his area is to bridge the differences with sincere communication, not public witchhunts.