Commissioners begin discussion about filling Tourism post

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Osage County commissioners last week talked briefly about advertising for a new Tourism director, but voted to take no action.

“There should be a ton of interest in it,” District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones said regarding the position, which is to become vacant this month, after the departure of Kelly Bland. She gave a 30-day notice in mid-March.

Bland brought a lot of energy to the job, which she has filled on a contract basis. Jones said April 4 that he was interested in getting started with the process of seeking a successor for Bland, and that she did not object to that activity beginning before the end of her service.

Jones said application materials had already been received from several people. He added that he thought the county’s Tourism Oversight Committee should play an active role in the search.

Bland’s decision to resign came during a period of brewing controversy about her relations with the Osage Nation. Left unresolved, and open for discussion, are questions about the appropriate compensation level for a Tourism director, and the appropriate mode of cooperation between the Tourism director and other community stakeholders regarding the promotion of Osage County as the principal location where a major motion picture has been filmed.

Movie director Martin Scorsese in 2021 filmed a motion picture adaptation of David Grann’s bestselling book “Killers of the Flower Moon.” There is anticipation the movie may be released in November, and Bland has encouraged community leaders in Osage County to be prepared to capitalize on a potential wave of tourist activity.

There is a ticklish aspect to promoting tourism in anticipation of the film release, given that the story it will tell is one of the exploitation and murder of members of the Osage tribe for financial gain.

Jones told the Journal-Capital that he anticipated the Tourism director search would be back on the county board’s agenda on April 11. He said that he thought an interim director might be hired until a permanent selection can be made.

The commissioners' agenda for April 11 reflected that Bland would give a report, and that the county board would consider advertising for both a permanent and an interim tourism director.

Jones indicated to the Journal-Capital that he anticipates a wide-ranging search across the nation for a new Tourism director.

Other Business

In other business before the county board April 4, commissioners voted, 3-0, to take no action for the time being on a request from the town of Prue for supplemental funding to help it with a water infrastructure project.

Prue has been awarded a $236,000 grant to cover much of the water project cost, but bids it opened on March 30 were significantly higher than the estimated expenses.

Denniece Coyle-Ames, treasurer and office manager for Prue, made a presentation to county commissioners in support of the town’s request for $100,000 of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money from the county. The commissioners responded by suggesting that Prue move ahead for now with the funding it already has obtained for the project, with a view toward seeking additional funds directly from the federal government through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that became law last November. That legislation is supposed to allow up to $550 billion in new federal spending on public infrastructure, including water projects.

The commissioners did, however, encourage Coyle-Ames to get back on their agenda if Prue reaches a point where other financing options are not working out soon enough.