In a report dated May 4, 2011, Boise Weekly reported that Lisa Edens, senior sales manager of Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, violated the bureau’s Articles of Incorporation by endorsing candidates for the upcoming election for the Greater Boise Auditorium District.
As part of its 1985 “Purposes, Powers and Philosophy,” BCVB said it would not participate in political campaigns. However, the bureau amended its Articles of Incorporation in 1992, changing its nonprofit status to a so-called 501(c)(6), and, according to BCVB Board Chairman George Manning, the bureau amended its operating bylaws concerning elections “about a year or so ago.”
As part of BCVB’s “Purposes and Limitations,” its amended bylaws state: “No activity shall be performed by the bureau to facilitate the transaction of unrelated private business by its members or to promote civil or political interests apart from those of the bureau.”
Manning said that the bureau board had not endorsed any candidate.
When BW said that Edens broke BCVB’s rules by endorsing GBAD candidates Steve Schmader and Mike Sullivan, we were incorrect. We regret the error.
We are currently trying to reach BCVB Executive Director Bobbie Patterson for further comment.
The original story is as follows.
When the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau was granted a Certificate of Incorporation in 1985, its officers promised never to participate in, or influence any campaign for public office. Yet the bureau's senior sales manager, Lisa Edens, violated its articles of incorporation by endorsing candidates for the upcoming election for the Greater Boise Auditorium District.
As part of its "Purposes, Powers and Philosophy," filed with the Idaho Secretary of State's Office, BCVB promised not to "intervene in, or participate in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." But Edens, a 21-year veteran of the bureau, mailed endorsement letters on April 18--using her organization's address, website, phone number and email--promoting Steve Schmader and Mike Sullivan in the Tuesday, May 17, GBAD board of directors election.
Schmader and Sullivan are among six candidates vying for two seats in the election. This year's runoff, which has attracted the most candidates in 18 years, comes in the wake of a contentious year, which saw GBAD cut off funding to the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau (BW, News, "Mediation Next Step Between Battling Auditorium Board and Visitors Bureau," Aug. 25, 2010) and widely varying scenarios for a new convention center (BW, News, "Convention Kerfuffle," Dec. 15, 2010). Joining Schmader and Sullivan on the May 17 ballot will be Hy Kloc, Judy Peavey-Derr, David Wali and Stephenson Youngerman (the lone incumbent).
BCVB has the most to win or lose in the election. On July 22, 2010, a deeply divided GBAD board voted 3-2 to cut off approximately $1.3 million in annual funding to operate the tourism bureau. And Edens has a personal and professional stake: She and her colleagues at BCVB saw their salaries disappear when the funding dried up.
Bobbie Patterson, BCVB executive director, confirmed to BW that Edens serves as the bureau's senior sales manager, but was quick to say that Edens is working for free.
"This has really blown up our workers' lives," said Patterson. "Are they interested in the outcome of the election? Of course they are. Why else would they continue to come to work for eight months without being paid?"
Before seeing its funding cut off by GBAD, two stinging financial audit reports concluded that BCVB credit cards had been used for personal use, and that there was little to no oversight of expenses by the bureau director. The reports did not allege fraud. Given that the upcoming election results could change at least one and possibly two seats on the five-member board, a new GBAD vote could quickly restore funding to BCVB.
"Two board members could immediately call for a meeting " said Patterson. The BCVB director said that she had "heard conversations" about an emergency vote that could come soon after the May 17 election, which might turn the financial spigot back on.
"They're hanging in there, but they [her employees] think this election will determine if they continue to come to work," said Patterson. "They've been collecting unemployment, but they've informed the state labor department that they could be rehired."
Schmader, one of the beneficiaries of the endorsement, told BW that he was surprised to see the letter but not surprised by its intent.
"I'll tell you what's happening," said Schmader. "They're working for nothing, and they're so passionate about what they do that they may not always be stopping to think about using the right approach."
Schmader said the bureau has kept its doors open at Boise's Owyhee Plaza Hotel, but in his words, "They're dying." He's anxious to fund them again.
"Honest to God, I would fund them the very first meeting after being elected," said Schmader. "I would make them financially healthy, so that everyone at the table is healthy to have a conversation about moving forward."
At least three more candidates agree with Schmader and would turn the funding back on, sooner than later.
"I think the visitor's bureau has done an excellent job," said Kloc. "We have to find a way to work with them."
"There has to be some kind of transparent way of working with the bureau," said Wali.
"To cut funding to an entity that has proved its worth time and again is not smart business sense," said Sullivan, who, along with Schmader, was endorsed in Edens' letter.
But candidate Peavey-Derr is a bit more cautious about the bureau.
"We know that they're good people," she said. "But I'm against funding the BCVB the way it's been done."
And one candidate, incumbent Youngerman, is not a fan of the bureau.
"The existing Convention and Visitor's Bureau operates under an archaic, threadbare plan," said Youngerman, who voted last July to cut off funding to BCVB.
Patterson, at odds with Youngerman, said it's time for the 18-year veteran of the board to step down from GBAD in favor of what she called "more informed decisions."
Acknowledging that, in retrospect, she would have told Edens not to send the endorsement letter, she still defended the action.
"How do I tell them what to do or what not to do if they're not being paid?" argued Patterson.