Reece, owner of the Quality Inn in Maggie Valley and Smoky Mountain Living Magazine, has been a controversial figure on the TDA board since he was appointed two years ago. Reece has challenged nearly everything about the TDA, from the direction of tourism in Haywood County to the intelligence of other TDA board members.
The resolution calling for Reece’s removal accused Reece of using his position to promote personal business interests, bullying other board members and being so disruptive and combative that the TDA cannot get its work done.
“It is so unfortunate it came to this,” Dorie Pope, chairwoman of the TDA, said in an interview. Pope said the commissioners would be wrong to leave Reece on the board.
“It would be unfair to put someone on a board and cause this much controversy and intimidation and leave them on,” Pope said.
When the resolution calling for his removal was presented, Reece said the board has failed in tourism promotion but won’t admit it and instead is lashing out at the messenger.
“I don’t care what kind of motion you make, I won’t leave,” Reece told the board.
Tom Halsey, owner of the Herren House Bed and Breakfast and the newest TDA board member, told Reece his presence was paralyzing the board.
“I have seen the work of this board come to a complete stop. We are dead in the water,” Halsey said. “No forward movement has been made on marketing.”
The TDA decides how to spend about $600,000 collected on a 3 percent tax on overnight lodging, which in turn is pumped into tourism promotion. Reece has continually railed against the TDA board for not having a marketing plan to spend the money.
“I want my money spent properly,” Reece said.
Reece recently accused executive director Scotty Ellis of misusing TDA money. Reece questioned a host of Ellis’ expenses. Some included small ticket items like occasionally ordering pizza for the TDA staff, buying soft drinks and gum, charging lunch meetings to the TDA account and ordering room service and a movie while at a tourism conference in New Orleans. On the upper end are $300 to $700 restaurant tabs to court travel writers and important people in tourism and economic development circles. Reece considered these expenses an abuse, while other TDA members considered lobbying activities — including expensive dinners — part of Ellis’ job.
When Reece called for an inquiry into Ellis’ superfluous spending, the TDA board appointed a committee to establish a policy for discretionary spending, but Reece called it a cover up.
“This board has never in 10 years looked at an invoice or approved a payment,” Reece said. “This board chose to cover it up rather than address the problems and say, ‘We made a mistake.’ You decided to cover it up.”
Halsey said removing Reece would free the board from a major drain on its time.
“The air can be cleared and we can move on with the business of wisely spending the taxpayers’ money for Haywood County, not going on fishing trips for a McDonald’s receipt that might be missing,” Halsey said.
Another accusation against Reece was that he used his position on the TDA board to advance his personal business interests, which violates the TDA code of ethics signed by all board members. For example, Reece recently voted to give TDA money to a Chevy event that he sponsored as the host hotel.
James Carver, a TDA board member who was one of the three that did not support the resolution to remove Reece from the board, said voting Reece off without warning is not right.
“If Wade Reece is wrong on advertisements for his business, this board should say ‘Wade, this is a conflict of interest’ and settle issues as we go, not have turmoil,” Carver said.
Carver said the TDA board can’t blame its problems on Reece.
“To me the problems will not go away by removing Wade Reece when it comes to advertisements, spending money and conflict of interest,” Carver said.
Dale Walksler, owner of Wheels Through Time Museum, cited a personal dispute with Reece as indicative of his “general attitude.” Reece refuses to include Wheels Through Time in a list of the tourist attractions in his magazine, Smoky Mountain Living.
Reece said that is because Walksler won’t recommend his hotel as a place for people visiting the museum to stay.
“You are selectively sending people to other hotels, and that’s not right,” Reece told Walksler.
Walksler said Reece has chosen to leave out a major attraction in a magazine that is supposed to serve tourists, in effect hurting tourism because of a personal vendetta.
“It’s called doing the right thing,” Walksler said.
Another reason cited for wanting to remove Reece is that he wants to dissolve the TDA. Reece has recently advocated doing away with the TDA and creating a new private entity that would manage tourism dollars and promotion. Specifically, Reece is advocating a merger between the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce would become the sole chamber in the county, while the Maggie Valley chamber would morph into a new entity called the Haywood County Visitor’s Bureau that would take over tourism promotions.
In the resolution, TDA board members said the idea is an attempt to undermine the TDA, where Reece has failed to gain control, and funnel it to the Maggie Valley chamber, where Reece has a leadership role.
“He wants to do way with the TDA and have the occupancy tax go to the Chambers, in particular the Maggie Valley Chamber, wherein Wade Reece will attempt to control and direct where occupancy tax monies will be spent ... and further promote his agenda thereby promoting special-interest groups,” the resolution stated.
The motion to remove Reece also accused him of being threatening, adversarial and derogatory toward other board members. An example cited in the resolution: Reece told Pope at a recent committee meeting, “I am tired of your mouth.” Reece repeatedly tells the other TDA board members that he doesn’t respect them.
Such language is not new to Reece. On one occasion, Reece loudly and repeatedly referred the mayor of Maggie Valley as a “bitch” in front of town employees in town hall while slapping the table. On another occasion he ran into a town board meeting, interrupted it and began hollering at the mayor to resign, shaking his finger and accusing her of ruining Maggie Valley. On another occasion he was charged with assault after allegedly hitting a man at a town hall meeting in Maggie Valley.
The five members in favor of removing Reece were Halsey, Pope, Joetta Rinehart, Walksler and Ken Stahl. Sonja Michaels, Carver and Reece voted against it. Alice Aumen abstained.