Tourism post will go full-time

Robert Smith

With a fairly rare 2-1 vote, the Board of County Commissioners decided Tuesday to move in the direction of making the position of tourism director for Osage County full-time as of July 1.

The County Commissioners voted to make a contract offer to current tourism director Kelly Bland that would convert her service from part-time to full-time. Bland is on track to complete a degree program in early May at Oral Roberts University, and her part-time contract with the county extends through June.

District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay and District 3 Commissioner Darren McKinney voted to make the contract offer. District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones, who explained he had not fully resolved his concerns about the level of pay Bland would be receiving as a full-time tourism contractor for the county, voted against the move.

Jones said he didn’t have any problem with Bland’s job performance, and added he isn’t against making the position full-time. He said that constituents have asked him questions like the ones he was asking about compensation for the tourism director, and he felt obliged to ask the questions in the board session.

Paslay made the motion to make a full-time offer to Bland, effective July 1, and McKinney made a concerted effort to see what it would take to persuade Jones, so all three commissioners could vote together.

More than once, McKinney, the board chair, asked Jones what might be provided to him in the way of information and explanations to bring him to a point of voting in favor of the contract offer.

“I would like for it to be three yeses and we go from there,” McKinney said.

Jones replied that he was not ready yet to vote “yes.”

“But you guys do what you have to do,” Jones said.

McKinney asked District Attorney Mike Fisher if it might be possible to have an executive session next week and hash out details about which Jones might want answers. Fisher noted that Bland is a contractor rather than a county employee, so an executive session would not be legally permissible.

McKinney eventually voted with Paslay to offer Bland a full-time position.

In a followup conversation after the meeting, Jones told the Journal-Capital that he felt the contract decision was unduly hurried, and he had wanted more time to explore just how much time and effort is required for Bland to carry out the tasks that she performs for the county. Jones noted that Bland’s per-hour compensation under the new contract will be $31.50 per hour, up $1.50 per hour from her current contract, and that a monthly expense stipend will rise from $600 to $950.

During the discussion, Sheriff Eddie Virden said he favors having Bland on the job full-time because his budget decreases every year and he thinks something needs to be done to bolster falling tax revenues.

“I think it’s a no-brainer with the job that she’s done,” Virden said.

County resident Jerry Butterbaugh also voiced support for converting the tourism director position to a full-time job. Butterbaugh said his thoughts were much the same as Virden’s, and added that he doesn’t think the county has any other options readily at-hand to provide the same potential for economic improvement that increased tourism does.

During the debate, Bland said she didn’t want to be “a bargaining chip on the table” and she assured Jones that she will be a good fit for the job. Following the vote, she thanked him for being forthright about his concerns.