After nearly a decade of serving the City and Township, Tourism Langley is taking steps towards disbandment.
In a media release sent out Feb. 14, the board of directors has called for a special general meeting of Tourism Langley stakeholders to be held on Thursday, March 2. On that day, a vote is expected to be taken on “a proposed dissolution of the Tourism Langley Association.”
According to the release, this decision comes in response to a list of requirements issued by the Township last month. Tourism Langley was asked to agree to these requirements, before council would endorse their funding renewal application.
In particular, the destination marketing organization feels that agreeing to the resolutions — to have a Township staff member as an ex-officio member, and two council members as voting members — “will remove autonomy and independency of staff and the Board of Directors, thus making this organization an entirely Township-centric operation.
“As such, the board deems that it is no longer feasible to move forward as an entity when we are not able to meet our mandate of promoting the Langley experience and representing the Langleys as a whole.”
BOARD CHALLENGED BY DEMANDS
In October 2016, Township staff began speaking with hotels and other stakeholders about the possibility of starting a new, Township-centric, tourism body, instead of using Tourism Langley, which has served both the City and the Township for the last nine years.
In January, council made the decision to stay with Tourism Langley, based on feedback from stakeholders, with the following amendments:
• the inclusion of two Township council representatives with weighted voting rights;
• the inclusion of a Township staff liaison to Tourism Langley as an ex-officio member;
• the inclusion of Township representatives on the executive director selection committee;
• scheduled reviews of Tourism Langley’s governance at year four of the five-year tourism bylaw renewals; and
• enhanced financial reporting.
But according to Teri James, Tourism Langley board chair, these requirements were out of line.
“The board just found it increasingly challenging to meet the Township’s demands,” James told the Times.
“And I guess the final blow was when they ratified a statement regarding the inclusion of a Township staff person and they escalated that person’s role in responsibility in the organization.
“The entire board almost unanimously agreed that it didn’t seem as though the Township was genuinely interested in having a partnership — more like they wanted their own show.
James further indicated that there was a lack of communication between the parties involved.
“Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of behind closed doors discussions, because that’s how all the communication started on the Township’s end of things,” she said.
“There was a precedent set, and unfortunately, with some of these decisions — not only timing wise, but sensitively wise — there was not a lot of conversation ahead of time.”
TOWNSHIP SURPRISED BY DECISION
However, not all members of the Tourism Langley board were present when this decision was made.
Township Coun. Angie Quaale, who sits on the board as the Township representative, said the meeting was scheduled for the same morning as the announcement of the new Youth Hub, and therefore she was unable to attend. She asked if she could call in to the meeting, but said she was denied.
Quaale said she has since tried to contact James multiple times, but did not receive a response until Tuesday afternoon.
“After an ‘emergency meeting’ of the board of directors, called by the chair of Tourism Langley, the board of directors decided to propose dissolution to the general membership. However, this meeting was called with no agenda, and the participation of a Township representative was expressly denied with no notice,” Quaale told the Times.
Had she been there, Quaale believes she could have cleared up any misunderstandings and this situation could have been avoided, especially when the board had already agreed to the Township’s resolutions, prior to council endorsing the renewal application.
“This could have been addressed and discussed if someone had reached out to the Township or allowed participation in the meeting from a Township representative; it could have also been addressed prior to a release being sent, if the chair had returned repeated text messages and calls hoping to discuss the outcome of the meeting,” Quaale said.
The Township’s intent was not to become overbearing on the board, but rather to have better insight into their financial reporting — something that has not been completely transparent in the past, she added.
“The Township, under no uncertain circumstances, was trying to exert day-to-day control,” Quaale said.
Mayor Jack Froese echoed Quaale’s comments.
“It may just have been a misunderstanding, that they thought our staff would be stepping on their toes, but they are a board and the board makes final decisions — not our staff. Our staff don’t have that authority, and I would certainly expect the City would also want a staff member there (on the board), but that’s up to them to provide that oversight report back to them.”
Froese said the decision “came as a complete surprise” to him and the rest of council.
“There was no communication from them about that, and if there was some misunderstanding, it would have been nice to have a phone call. So I’m pretty much surprised by their reaction to what they agreed to.
“It’s unfortunate they decided to take this route.”
CITY CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVES
Coun. Gayle Martin, the City representative on the Tourism Langley Board, said that Quaale was not deliberately excluded.
Martin said the board could not allow Quaale to attend the in camera (closed-door) meeting by phone, as the Township councillor requested.
“We have no idea who is in the room (at the other end) when a phone is patched in,” Martin said.
Martin said after a new agreement was reached, the Township came back with an unexpected demand to have a Township staff liaison on the Tourism Langley board as an ex-officio member, which “was something we never agreed to.”
She added if the Township was allowed to put a staffer on the board, the City would would insist on having a staff liaison on the board, too.
Martin said the City has been considering alternatives in event that Tourism Langley is unable to continue.
“We have been exploring our options,” Martin said, without giving specifics.
“The City cannot see it (Tourism Langley) working under the current situation.”
She went on to say that if the Township and City went their separate ways, “we’d have to go back to square one and get the hoteliers approval (for a tax to promote tourism).”