Tourism Committee votes to recommend Moore

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Members of the Osage County Tourism Committee voted March 14 to recommend interim tourism director Mary Beth Moore to the Board of County Commissioners to be hired as the full director. Committee members voted on two candidates – Moore and the previous director, Kelly Bland Hurd. Five votes were cast, and Moore received all of them.

Moore became the interim tourism director almost a year ago, after Hurd resigned from the position during a period of controversy. Moore, and committee members and county elected officials have made several changes during the past year in the way the tourism promotion program is managed. One of those changes is that county government provided space for a tourism office in the E-911 business office building, located on 6th Street in Pawhuska. There previously was not a tourism office.

The agenda for the Monday, March 20 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners included an item allowing for discussion and possible action to fill the tourism director position.

Committee members and other interested individuals who attended the March 14 Tourism Committee meeting were generally supportive of Moore being hired, but they also aired questions and comments regarding the process of advertising for a director and the role of the committee.

Cha’ Tullis, an artist from Hominy who serves on the Tourism Committee, said that his clientele come from a variety of places – he named Dallas, Texas, along with London, England and the country of Sweden – and he thinks the tourism director position for Osage County should easily draw interest from outside the local area.

“We should be getting people to choose from, from far away,” Tullis said. Committee member Randi Chesbro explained that county government handled the posting of the position, and the committee did not participate in that. There were three applicants, one of whom was only able to offer to serve part-time.

Neil Fischer, who along with his wife, Teresa, owns a tourism-related business west of downtown Pawhuska called the Old West Buffalo Company, voiced disbelief that a tourism destination location like Osage County would draw so few interested people for its tourism director job.

“I’m just wondering, how is that possible?” Fischer said of the application process that attracted no one from outside the state. The Fischers relocated from Colorado to establish their Osage County business. Fischer also emphasized that the county tourism program is financed with public money.

“This is not private money, this is public money,” he said.

Mark Spencer, of Wolf Creek Ranch, spoke supportively of moving ahead to fill the tourism director position, but he added that he thinks the committee should do better in the future in the way it handles the recruitment process.

Spencer also questioned whether anyone thought the little brick building in which the tourism program has office space looked like a “Tourism Office.”

The Osage County tourism promotion program is financed with lodging tax revenues. Through March 2023, revenues for the 2022-23 fiscal year that began July 1, 2022 and will end June 30, 2023, were $211,664.34. The budget for the fiscal year included anticipated tax revenues of $300,000.

The program’s total account balance through March is $442,648.06.

Committee members and interested parties also talked March 14 about possible new directions in tourism advertising. Tullis and others recommended placing ads in Cowboys and Indians Magazine, which focuses on Western and Native American lifestyles. Tullis commented that readers of the magazine have the reputation of being remarkably attached to it.

“They don’t throw them away,” he said.