The by-laws for the tourism board state that board members must be a resident of Haywood County. Rinehart was re-appointed for a three-year term in January by the Haywood County commissioners. She then moved to Asheville in the spring.
“We are looking into it and the board certainly wants to do the right thing,” said Dorie Pope, chairwoman of the tourism board. “We will make a statement just as soon as we know.”
Scotty Ellis, director of the tourism authority, said she was unaware until this week that the by-laws had any language addressing a board member’s residency.
“Personally, I just wasn’t aware of it,” Ellis said. Ellis has contacted the tourism authority’s attorney, Chip Killian, for an interpretation on what Rinehart should do.
The issue was brought to light by Maggie Valley business owners who heard Rinehart had moved.
The tourism board has been in a state of near constant controversy for more than a year, and the subject of on-and-off controversy for more than a decade. It controls more than $600,000 collected through a 3 percent tax on overnight lodging used to promote tourism. The best use for that money is the source of constant debate.
Rinehart has been part of a recent move to reduce the share of tourism dollars historically allocated to Maggie Valley to support the Maggie chamber of commerce and instead put the money toward countywide marketing efforts. It is no surprise that many in Maggie Valley who want a greater share of the tourism tax dollars, not less, feel Rinehart is ineligible to serve.
“If you move and that’s the criteria, you should say well I’m not a resident any longer and I shouldn’t be on the board,” said Sonja Michaels, a tourism board member.
Michaels said others on the board are trying to interpret the bylaws.
“I think they need to go by the rules,” Michaels said. “You can read it backwards and make it say something different, but the sentence that refers to being a resident is very clear.”
Even if Rinehart is ineligible to serve, it is unclear whether the county commissioners can remove her. Earlier this year, some tourism board members asked commissioners to remove Wade Reece, a tourism board member, for what they claimed was inappropriate behavior and a conflict of interest. But the commissioners responded that they did not think they had the authority to remove board members.