Tourism plan may change

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 27, 2004

The issue that brought forth the most emotion in the City of Selma’s workshop meeting on Tuesday was the mayor’s proposed removal of Selma’s tourism division from the Planning and Development Office to the Centre of Commerce.

“This is another one of these issues that we’ve had to address that there is a tremendous raw passion,” Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said. “We’re trying to get more efficient.

We’re trying to make sure that we do the best job we can with the resources that we have.”

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Councilman Cecil Williamson asked about the Planning and Development’s reaction to the move.

“It’s no secret that our director (Elizabeth Driggers) has been with the city for 35 years, we are anticipating her announcing her plans for the future as we approach this next year,” Perkins said. “We need to be thinking about how we’re going to be moving forward.”

EDA and Centre of Commerce CEO Wayne Vardaman will be a big part of that forward move.

“The first reaction to change is to resist it,” Vardaman said. “(The EDA) had meetings with our board and in this situation we met with the Centre Board so you’ve got a consensus.

We would be willing to try this and we’ll do the very best job that we can.”

Kathi Needham, a volunteer on the board, promised that the Centre will look out for the best interests of tourism.

“Our board promises to be good stewards of the community’s image,” she said. “We will call on (Driggers and her staff) for abundant advice. We will work closely with everyone to make sure their visit to the city is a pleasant one.”

The plan recommends transferring $84,000 from the general fund budget to the tourism budget under the Centre of Commerce.

The city would contract with the Centre so all of the city’s tourism projects would be handled under one roof.

The plan claims it would streamline the process while realizing a savings of $85,000.

Perkins says the upcoming 40th Anniversary Jubilee Celebration of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery March makes this the optimal year to make the move.

“We’re going to receive a windfall because of our 40th anniversary,” Perkins said. “I think we can make this a real smooth transition. This is one of those projects I think we need to transfer to the professionals and let them handle this.”

The council approved 8-1 to back the project when Perkins presents the next version of the budget, early in the New Year.

After the consensus vote, Patty Sexton, of the Planning and Development staff asked to speak.

“I may be fired for this,” she said before continuing.

“I started working with tourism before I came to work for the city,” she said. “The Centre of Commerce’s tourism has only handled certain aspects of tourism.

You’re asking them to take a staff of one and make them a staff of three.”

Councilman Johnnie Leashore said he believed that Sexton as a city employee was out of order for speaking.

Council President George Evans disagreed, saying Sexton deserved to speak.

It was then the mayor revealed he had been asked if employees could speak at the meeting and he had told them no.

Perkins said neither Leashore nor Evans new of his ruling.

“It was proof positive,” Perkins said of Sexton’s speech. “And it confirms why I did it. It was out of order.”

After a 10-minute dinner break, Driggers herself addressed the council.

“I feel like I have been in the way,” Driggers said in an emotion-filled voice.

“I felt like after 35 years my input is nothing.

I have never left (Perkins) office without doing what he said to do. I respect him and I respect the position.

When has it been wrong to be passionate about your job? I love Selma.

I stayed beyond retirement age because I felt like I had something to contribute.”

“I know how painful this is for the people that work in that department,” Perkins said. “I love Ms. Driggers’ passions and her willingness to work with me on the issues.

This is like trying to ask somebody to take something shaped and molded for 35 years and reconfigure it.”

Despite that emotion, Driggers said she hoped everything would turn out for the best.

“I pray that this decision will prove very beneficial to the City of Selma.”