Bland to leave Chamber, Tourism posts

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Kelly Bland said March 17 that she has decided to relinquish her positions as director of Osage County Tourism and executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce.

“I have had some opportunities present themselves that I would like to pursue,” Bland said in a written statement. “I have counted it a privilege to serve the county and Pawhuska and will always have a heart for Osage County — where the smiles are always free.”

Bland said March 31 will be her last day at the Chamber of Commerce. She gave a 30-day notice to Osage County government.

Bland did not immediately reply to a question about her plans for the future.

Bland had been Tourism director for more than four years. The county hired her in late 2017 on a part-time basis. She became the full-time Tourism director in July of 2019.

In May 2021, Bland succeeded Joni Nash as executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce. Since that time, Bland has been both Tourism director and Chamber executive. As the Chamber’s executive officer, she also provided economic development services to the Pawhuska City Council.

Bland revolutionized the Tourism director position, bringing a high-energy dynamic style of leadership to it. She increased the county’s visibility as a tourist destination, and told county officials that the filming of a major motion picture in the county in 2021 presented them with remarkable opportunities for a tourism boom.

Bland was similarly assertive in encouraging the Pawhuska City Council to address needs for better housing, better visitor transportation and better utilization of commercial real estate.

Bland’s contract with Osage County was due for a review and possible renewal by the Board of County Commissioners. That discussion was listed on the board’s March 14 agenda, but it was tabled on the grounds that the chairman of the county’s Tourism Oversight Committee could not be present that day.

Bland had come under fire publicly in February 2022 by Pawhuska art gallery owner Addie Roanhorse in regard to an online tourism post that referred to the spurs of William “Bill” Hale, one of the primary villains in the Osage Reign of Terror. Hale’s spurs were part of a display at a Fairfax bank. Bland had referred to Hale as a villainous person, and had taken down her post after it drew criticism. Roanhorse is a citizen of the Osage Nation.

Roanhorse was listed on the agenda for a Feb. 17 special meeting of the Pawhuska City Council, to make a presentation regarding “issues with the Chamber of Commerce” and to request that the Council re-examine its economic development contract with the Chamber. Mayor Roger Taylor canceled the meeting because of inclement weather. He also directed the city manager to facilitate a dialogue regarding the Chamber’s role.

On Wednesday, March 16, a non-public meeting was held that included representatives of the city of Pawhuska, the Chamber of Commerce and the Osage Nation. The Osage Nation reportedly offered assistance in addressing cultural and social diversity issues.

District 1 County Commissioner Randall Jones responded to word of Bland’s decision to relinquish her positions by saying he appreciates Bland’s service to the county, and that he anticipates the county board will move ahead with a search for a new Tourism director.

Christi McNeil, president of the Chamber board, said March 18 that the board had not yet met.

”She has done a great job for the Chamber of Commerce,” McNeil said regarding Bland.

Pawhuska City Manager Jerry Eubanks expressed sadness at the impending loss of Bland.

"I am truly saddened by the loss of Kelly Bland as the Chamber director," Eubanks said. "She's been a great asset to this community. I wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors."