City officials take trip for tourism

June 12, 2014

Four members of the Granbury City Council recently spent a weekend in Fredericksburg to meet with local officials about the town’s thriving tourism industry.

Mickey Parson, Tony Allen, Gary Couch and Rose Myers are the council members who made the trip.

Assistant City Manager Sheri Campbell-Husband also went.

Couch had suggested such a trip during a discussion at a recent City Council meeting about tourism and the proper use of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT).

Some involved in the tourism industry here have criticized the dissolution several years ago of the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau. That decision was made by a former city manager.

There has also been some disagreement regarding the use of HOT funds to promote tourism.

“I thought the trip was very productive. It’s going to, actually, I think, lead to some changes on how we attract tourists to Granbury,” Couch said Thursday.

Taxpayer Funded

Because junkets taken by elected officials tend to be of interest to the public, the Hood County News obtained documents through Open Records detailing the expenses involved.

The individual cost for each person was $423.27. The total cost was $2,116.35.

City Manager Wayne McKethan said a public notice about the trip was posted at the entrance to City Hall at the insistence of the city attorney.

According to the city’s posting, the trip spanned Friday, May 16, through Sunday, May 18.

However, Allen said he stayed only Friday night. He said it was his understanding that some of the others may also have stayed just one night – or stayed a second night at their own expense.

Travel request forms submitted on behalf of all who went to Fredericksburg show a lodging fee for only one night.

Mileage totalling $191 was given to all five people. McKethan said there is no mandate for elected officials regarding carpooling.

Couch said he rode with Parson, but he denied having received mileage money.

McKethan said Thursday that checks to cover the travel expenses were put at the council members’ places on the dais on the night of the regular City Council meeting prior to the trip.

However, after checking up on Couch’s claims, McKethan said city records show the check has not yet cleared. It is possible it was misplaced, he said.

McKethan stated that if the check had been cashed, the $191 would be subtracted from any future travel reimbursement due Couch.

Couch said he did not know until the night before the trip that he would be riding with Parson.

Allen stated the contingent was treated to dinner that Friday night by Fredericksburg officials. He said spouses also went on the trip, except in the case of Couch, who is not married.

Upon their return, Campbell-Husband drafted a two-page report detailing information gleaned from meetings with Fredericksburg officials.

City Staffer’s Report

Granbury has a population of just over 8,000, and Hood County’s population is around 53,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By comparison, according to Campbell-Husband’s report, Fredericksburg’s population is about 10,000 and the population of Gillespie County is 22,500.

A survey showed that, for 32 percent of respondents, touring the 30 wineries in the greater Fredericksburg area was their primary interest.

Other top draws are Wildseed Farms, the National Museum of the Pacific War, the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and Fredericksburg’s 150 “unique shops.”

Continuing obstacles include convincing businesses in the shopping district to stay open in the evenings.

By Comparison

Some have criticized Granbury’s square merchants for not staying open later.

However, Scott Young, president of the Historic Granbury Merchants Association (HGMA), said there are “12 merchants who consistently stay open to at least 7 o’clock on Fridays and Saturdays, and will do the same thing on Thursdays.”

Young said he is pleased that the council members made the trip.

“Our council has become very attuned to the business that is tourism in our town and county, and they wanted to go see what most people think of the top tourism town, which is Fredericksburg,” he said, noting that budget time for the city is just around the corner.

“If there are any changes to the budget, this is the time of year to start that discussion,” Young stated. “I think it’s very timely.”

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