Commissioners give conditional approval to Bland contract

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

County commissioners voted, 2-1, on April 26 to approve a contract renewal with Kelly Bland, executive director of Osage County Tourism, pending an opinion from the state Auditor and Inspector’s office regarding a proposed bonus arrangement for Bland in the upcoming fiscal year.

County fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

Bland indicated her current financial package with the county is for wages of about $65,000 annually, plus a monthly expense stipend that she said comes to less than $12,000 annually.

Claud Rosendale, secretary of the county Tourism Board and president of the Barnsdall Chamber of Commerce, recommended on behalf of the Tourism Board that the commissioners include in the contract renewal a bonus amounting to 3 percent of the growth in county lodging tax receipts, with any bonus to be capped at $12,000. The bonus should also be contingent on Bland continuing to score 140 or better on a 150-point annual evaluation, Rosendale recommended. Her most recent evaluation score was reportedly 144 out of 150.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones voiced confidence in the quality of Bland’s work, but said he has a problem with giving a bonus out of tax money and has asked for a state Auditor and Inspector review of the proposal.

“We are a county government. This is taxpayers’ money,” Jones said. “I just feel like to hand it out as a bonus is not the way to go.”

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane, who reviewed the proposed contract for the commissioners, said she had no objection to it.

Rosendale supported the proposed performance incentive for Bland, telling the commissioners that she has had offers to work elsewhere for considerably more money, and adding that she is the perfect person to represent Osage County as it expands its tourist economy.

“I would just like to do something to encourage her to excel more and more,” Rosendale told the county board. He said most of the people who pay the lodging tax are from outside the county and even the state.

Cathi Ball, of the downtown Pawhuska business named Mariposa, and her husband, Chris, spoke in support of approving the financial incentive for Bland.

Chris Ball said he has had perhaps 1,000 employees through the years and found probably threewho were “sure enough self-starters.”

“From what little I know about her, she’s one of those kind,” he said.

He suggested that if the idea of a bonus caused problems for commissioners, they should just give Bland a raise.

“I can’t see it being rocket science, so let’s move this deal along and not string her out,” Chris Ball said.

Jones took issue with the characterization of objections to a bonus amounting to stringing Bland out. He commented that he has a problem with the bonus language, but clarified he was not “trying to run her off.” Jones said that the quality of Bland’s work for the county had brought even “naysayers” about her around. Given the charged tone of the overall discussion, that reference to “naysayers” caused an annoyed reaction.

District 2 Commissioner Steve Talburt indicated he would not have a problem with the bonus, noting that she wouldn’t get it if she didn’t perform at a high level.

District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney, who is currently board chairman, moved the discussion in the direction of a vote by the commissioners to move forward. He solicited a motion to approve the contract renewal, contingent on approval of the bonus by the state Auditor and Inspector’s office. Talburt made the motion, McKinney seconded it and they voted in favor. Jones dissented.

In other business April 26, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow attorney Lauren Jech, on behalf of her clients, to withdraw a petition for the opening of a section line to provide access to a parcel of property. Jech said a private agreement had been reached regarding access.