Tired of being the odd woman out, Haywood tourism member resigns
A Haywood County Tourism Development Authority board member has resigned from her seat after disagreeing with the rest of the board’s decision to close a couple of its visitors centers.
“Honestly after the first term, I debated whether I should stay on (the board),” said Jen Duerr, owner of Windover Inn Bed and Breakfast in Waynesville. “I am always the lone voice in dissenting a lot of things.”
At least one fellow board member disagreed, saying the TDA routinely has open discussions with people frequently voicing differing opinions or suggestions.
“We always have board members who speak their mind on certain subjects,” said Ken Stahl, a hotel owner and the board’s finance chair. “People dissent all the time.”
Just last month, Duerr was the sole board member who disagreed with the closure of the Balsam visitors center off U.S. 74/23 and the Canton visitors center off Interstate 40.
There are currently five visitor centers in Haywood County. The TDA decided to streamline visitor center operations and focus its resources on just two: one in Waynesville and one in Maggie. The TDA will make a partial contribution to a visitors center inside Canton’s historical museum.
The members of the TDA board can serve up to six years at a stretch and then can go back on for another term after sitting out for a year. A few of the TDA board members have been on the board with only a brief hiatus for a decade or more.
The long tenures means not enough new board members, Duerr said. A regular rotation of the members would allow for the injection of new ideas and opinions on the board.
“Everyone kind of knows everyone a little too well. There is a lot of history there,” Duerr said. “It’s just way too comfortable, way too familiar.”
Duerr is not the only board member who feels that way.
Marion Hamel, of Maggie Valley, will leave the board when her term expires at the end of this year, saying she has served long enough.
“My time is definitely up,” said Hamel, who has been on the board for several years. “I think that some of the members have been on there for years and years and years. I do think that rotation is a good idea.”
Despite their disagreements, Duerr applauded her fellow board member’s dedication.
“All the board members do put in a lot of time. I think they work hard and believe in what they are doing,” Duerr said. “I have respect for the people on the board.”
County Commissioner and fellow tourism board member Mike Sorrells said he was sad to see Duerr go.
“It’s very disappointing” to lose her, Sorrells said. “She was very passionate about what she did.”
Duerr announced that she would leave the board by the end of the year. The county has already posted the open position, hoping to fill it by late August. She now plans to focus her time on her business.
Lynn Collins, executive director of the Tourism Development Authority, declined to comment on Duerr’s resignation other than to call Duerr a great board member.
“She has always offered good suggestions to us and had very good input,” Collins said. “She has always been a very participatory board member.”
Duerr also criticized the TDA, claiming it is too focused on the past when it comes to marketing the county. She cited the tourism board’s discussion of giving money to Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley before its opening was a done deal.
“We are always going in the past to look at the future,” Duerr said. “I don’t think it’s wise.”
The once-popular amusement park struggled for years before falling into disrepair, closing its doors and falling into bankruptcy. However, it was purchased earlier this year and is scheduled to open in phases.
The board has within the past couple years upped its presence on social media site and jumped on the ‘buy local’ bandwagon with its Homegrown in Haywood campaign. These initiatives show that the TDA is trying to stay up with current trends, Hamel said
“But, I think there are some things that have been around for a long time,” she added.
Despite Duerr’s criticisms, Stahl said the current board does a quality job.
“The board continues to function well,” Stahl said.
How to apply
The open seat on the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is designated for an owner or operator of a hotel, motel or other accommodation with 20 or fewer rental units. The term for the seat expires December 31, 2014.