Here is the email that we just sent to the Lake County Commissioners requesting records of the meeting between the Visitors’ Bureau and the Lake County Commissioners.
Lobbyists for Citizens takes the position that the meeting held on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau; should have been an public meeting. We believe that Commissioner Cirino violated the Open Meetings Act when he removed Brian Massie, President of Lobbyists for Citizens, from that meeting.
There were two (2) of the three (3) Commissioners present.
We understand that the discussion involved the funding of Visitors Bureau projects for 2019 out of the Tourism Reserve Fund (the 1% lodging tax fund allowed by the ORC), a fund under the management and control of the Commissioners. In essence this was a Budget Hearing…no different than the Budget Hearings for the departments of the County. All CDBG “hearings” where non-profits are asking for funding from the Commissioners are open to the public.
Additionally, the Visitors Bureau is a non-profit, but at this point they are TOTALLY funded by public money. Perhaps the Commissioners believe the meeting was to be private because of that non-profit status. The Visitors Bureau is a 501(c)6 MEMBERSHIP nonprofit, The Visitors Bureau has had NO MEMBERS for at least 2.5 to 3 years. They are operating as a 501(c)6 membership non-profit without paid members. The 5-member board does not meet the test under the IRS rules for 501(c)6 membership nonprofits. The members must contribute MEANINGFUL support. We will be reaching out to the IRS to confirm our belief that MEANINGFUL SUPPORT means support of a financial nature.
At this time, and at the time of the meeting held on February 19, 2019, the Visitor Bureau is COMPLETELY funded by public money, i.e. lodging taxes. Because the Visitors Bureau is operating as a 501(c)6 membership non-profit with no members, any protective veil allowing them to keep their meetings and Minutes private has been pierced. As such, Lobbyists for Citizens believes that the Visitors Bureau meetings should be open to public scrutiny immediately and until such time as they perfect their 501(c)6 status with the IRS. Further, the Visitors Bureau should be required to produce the Minutes of their meetings for the past 3 years, which is the amount of time they have not complied with IRS rules and regulations governing a 501(c)6 membership nonprofit.
For the reasons stated herein, Lobbyists for Citizens believes that the Commissioners’ meeting with the Visitors Bureau held on February 19, 2019 should have been open to the public. Therefore, pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Sunshine Laws, Lobbyists for Citizens is requesting the following:
- The audio of the meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau held on February 19, 2019.
- Any and all documentation used to prepare for and which was exchanged between the Visitors Bureau and the Commissioners regarding the meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau held on February 19, 2019.
- Any and all emails, letters, and hand-written notes between ANY Visitors Bureau employee and/or board members with Commissioner Cirino and/or Commissioner Hamercheck relative to the 2019 funding of Visitors Bureau projects out of the Tourism Reserve fund as well as the continued funding of port authority operating expenses, to include the salary and pension of the Director of Coastal Development, a port authority employee, (which is a violation of the ORC) prior to or after the meeting held on February 19, 2019.
- Any and all meeting notes from the meeting between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau held on February 19, 2019.
- Any and all agreements between the Commissioners and the Visitors Bureau regarding the disposition of the Tourism Reserve Fund.
- Any and all agreements, documents, emails, etc. regarding the funding of 2019 Visitors Bureau projects from the Tourism Reserve Fund.
- Any and all agreements, documents, messages, notes, emails regarding the funding of the Director of Coastal Developments salary and pension for the year 2019 and beyond.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
Lobbyists for Citizens