CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners reviewed the history of the recreation and tourism authority, the recent issues plaguing board meetings and their plans to redirect the CCRTA’s focus back to its original mission – marketing and promoting the county – during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
In recent months, the CCRTA has “become embroiled in issues of staff discipline, conducted at least one meeting on Aug. 17 without a quorum and has seen a single board member exercise sole power in regards to a staff discipline and then attempt to cancel a scheduled board meeting without authorization to do so,” stated a press release issued to the press by the commissioners.
“The commissioners feel it is time to rein in the CCRTA board and refocus their efforts away from day-to-day management so concentration will be on marketing and promoting Clearfield County,” the commissioners explained.
The CCRTA was originally created under the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Act by the Clearfield County Commissioners in 1984. It was then the Clearfield County Municipal Services and Recreation Authority, or CCMSRA, and still remains a “legally-controlled subsidiary of Clearfield County Government.”
According to the commissioners, the initial function of CCMSRA was the operation of a public water authority utilizing the lake at Camp Wopsononock as its water source. It was also to manage Camp Wopsononock as a limited-access recreation area.
A few years later when Clearfield County took over responsibility for the Curwensville Lake and Recreation Area, management responsibilities for Curwensville Lake were also given to the CCMSRA board. Eventually, the BCI Municipality Authority was created to manage the water authority and CCMSRA was left managing the two recreational facilities.
In the early 2000’s, Commissioners John Sughrue, Gene Lunsford and Mike Lytle took action to levy a 3 percent hotel tax. Looking for a board to distribute hotel tax funds in 2003, they filed Articles of Amendment with the Pennsylvania Department of State to change the name of the authority to the Clearfield County Recreation and Tourism Authority and set the board at nine members. The Articles of Amendment gave the commissioners sole authority to appoint CCRTA board members.
By 2005, all legal requirements were completed to designate the CCRTA as the official Tourism Promotion Agency, TPA, for Clearfield County.
Shortly after, the CCRTA board requested the commissioners to file another Articles of Amendment to increase the board to 12 members, with the three, additional board seats designated for people working in tourism- or hospitality-related business.
It was also agreed that at least one seat on the CCRTA board would be occupied by a county commissioner. With no additional updates to the Articles of Incorporation, the CCRTA board now exists with 12 members requiring seven members to make a quorum, according to the commissioners.
“There’s been some confusion by individual board members that I think has been going on for several years as to what type of entity it is,” said Commissioner Mark B. McCracken. “… The Articles of Incorporation and the subsequent Articles of Amendment filed through the years continue to make it very clear that the commissioners have the full-appointing authority on that board.
“The by-laws designed by the board to operate should in no way interfere with the prerogative of the commissioners to appoint and oversee that board. The other thing, if you look through the history, the way the filing is that entity belongs to Clearfield County Government. It’s not a stand-alone entity.”
On the topic of quorums, McCracken said the Aug. 17 CCRTA board meeting was not valid, as only four board members were present and any vacant seats are held until there’s a replacement. According to him, any business conducted at that meeting is void and therefore didn’t happen.
On Sept. 14 he said there were only five board members present for the meeting, but he said one person rumored it as cancelled. He felt if not for the rumored cancellation, there probably would have been a quorum. McCracken noted action taken at that meeting was affirmed at a special meeting Sept. 20 by the majority of the board.
“None of the action taken at the Aug. 17 meeting is official. That includes the passing of the budget; the raise of an employee; and the contract for the travel planner, etc. It will have to be revisited,” he said.
When asked by the press about the number of board seats, McCracken said in December of 2013, the CCRTA revised the by-laws to change the number of members to at least nine but no more than 13.
“It wasn’t the appropriate thing to do,” he said. “They didn’t have the authority to do that. It’s has to be done through the commissioners by filing an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation.”
He said until 2014, there were 12 members on the board, not to say there weren’t any meetings with only seven or eight of them present. Now, he said there’s nine of the 12 seats filled, but the commissioners have plans to amend the Articles of Incorporation to make it a nine-person board.
On Sept. 20, with nine board members present, the CCRTA held its most recent meeting. Then board Vice Chairman Hildred Rowles questioned the legality of the appointments of Mark Burnett and Commissioner John Sobel to the board and if they were permitted to participate in the meeting.
CCRTA Board Solicitor Fred Neiswender offered an opinion, based on CCRTA by-laws, in support of the challenge by Rowles, McCracken said. In response to this issue, he said County Solicitor Kim Kesner contacted Michael J. Witherel, Esq. of Witherel & Associates of Pittsburgh, who has served as the solicitor of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association since 1999.
Witherel confirmed the legal opinion that Kesner gave the commissioners. Witherel stated:
“The CCRTA may adopt by-laws as authorized by the act, which are effective unless or until they conflict with the Municipal Authorities Act.
“By-laws adopted by the CCRTA cannot limit the appointment prerogatives of the commissioners given to them by the Municipal Authorities Act.
“There is nothing in the act that prohibits the appointment of the commissioners to the CCRTA board.”
The CCRTA is legally bound to operate under the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and under the original Articles of Incorporation and any Articles of Amendment that have been filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State by the county commissioners, according to the commissioners.
Any by-laws enacted by the CCRTA board have no legal authority over actions taken by the commissioners in regards to the CCRTA. “The commissioners are well within our rights and responsibilities concerning a municipal authority,” noted McCracken.
As well, Commissioner Tony Scotto indicated he’d contacted a representative with the Pennsylvania Lodging & Boarding Association. He was told that Act 18 didn’t require the CCRTA, as the county’s TPA, to change its structure to a 501(c)6.
“It’s not the purpose of Act 18,” he said. While some counties have an alternative structure, Scotto felt Clearfield County needed to maintain its authority over the CCRTA in terms of having the ability to appoint board members, to keep the organization from becoming “too big” and to control spending.
In order to resolve any current or future conflicts with the CCRTA board, the commissioners announced their plans to redirect the CCRTA board back to its original mission as TPA. These plans will include that:
- All positions necessary to service the CCRTA will return back to Clearfield County Government under the supervision of the Clearfield County Commissioners. As county government employees, the hiring, management, job descriptions and, if it’s necessary, discipline, will be the sole responsibility of the commissioners. It was noted that in 2005, the CCRTA didn’t have any employees, and all services were provided by Clearfield County Government.
- A Memorandum of Understanding will be enacted between the CCRTA and the commissioners to reimburse Clearfield County Government for all costs incurred for the staffing provided to service the CCRTA in its mission. Appropriate documentation of all costs and expenses will be provided to the CCRTA board prior to reimbursement to the county.
- As required by Act 18, all hotel tax funds, minus the legally-allowed commission retained by the Clearfield County treasurer to cover expenses, will be turned over to the CCRTA. Currently the CCRTA receives approximately $500,000 annually in hotel tax funds.
- The CCRTA board will have full discretion to award grant monies on an annual basis to events that bring visitors to and promote Clearfield County as a destination. The only caveat being that the CCRTA must award the funds within the legal guidelines of Act 18.
- The CCRTA board remains contractually obligated to cover the rental cost for the CCRTA offices for the duration of the lease. Also, the CCRTA retains ownership of certain fixed assets, including, but not limited to, the CCRTA mobile marketing device/van. It is the expectation that terms will be reached to allow the staff provided by Clearfield County Government to utilize the offices and equipment necessary to assist the CCRTA in fulfilling their mission as TPA for Clearfield County.
- The Clearfield County Commissioners will file an updated Articles of Amendment to return the CCRTA board to a nine-member board. The CCRTA board will operate under the legal provisions of the original Articles of Incorporation filed in 1984, and all succeeding Articles of Amendment filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State. The CCRTA board may adopt by-laws for their own conduct of meetings; however, all parties must understand any and all future by-laws only pertain to the CCRTA board members and will not interfere with the legal rights and obligations of the commissioners in their oversight of the authority, which includes appointment of members to the CCRTA board.
“We want to get the CCRTA board back to marketing and promoting Clearfield County,” said McCracken. Sobel concurred, saying the commissioners haven’t just been trying to resolve their concerns with the CCRTA over recent weeks and months but for the past few years. He said the authority had grown so large and was “eating up” more than 50 percent of its hotel tax funds on administration.
Sobel said he was sure that wasn’t the original intent when the CCRTA was first created. “The intent was to have the majority of the monies distributed throughout the county supporting marketing and promotion efforts of various entities and also Clearfield County.
“The board has been spending too much time dealing with internal issues at CCRTA. It was time taken away from using their talents … I can assure the public that we’ve been making efforts over the past several years to try to address that with the board, not to our satisfaction.”
Sobel said it’s the hope with their plans that they can have an authority and board of directors to use their talents and abilities to concentrate on promoting and enhancing life in Clearfield County. He said the process will take a few months, and when satisfied, the commissioners plan to give up two seats on the CCRTA board.
“I don’t think any of us are interested in staying on for any extended period of time,” he said. “We want room for people who have knowledge and skills in tourism marketing and promotion.”
When asked by the press if the CCRTA would have to accept the commissioners’ plans, McCracken said he didn’t believe it was necessary because it was under Clearfield County Government. He said the commissioners aren’t planning to open that door, as they want to fix this problem and return the CCRTA to its original mission.
“It’s up to our leadership and responsibility to do that,” McCracken said. Sobel added, “And, I agree.”
Also, at the end of the CCRTA discussion, the commissioners approved the resignations of board members Randy Schmidt and Rowles, who resigned and walked out of the Sept. 20 board meeting. Those interested in serving on the board are invited to contact the commissioners.