By a vote of 10 to 4, the Claiborne County Chamber of Commerce board of directors approved a motion Monday to eliminate the director of tourism contract with Carl Nichols, who has for the last five years filled the seat.
Prior to the vote, several local and out-of-state leaders spoke of the good Nichols has done since taking up the tourism cause.
Judy Barton, CEO of the Bell County Tourism Commission, said she could not understand why the chamber board would contemplate eliminating a part-time position with an annual salary of just $13,000.
Barton questioned the chamber’s plans to use that money for advertising and networking, saying the money would be just a drop in the bucket to the costs of adequately advertising tourism events.
“I’m afraid you’re taking a step backward and something will suffer if you do take the directorship away,” said Barton.
Apparently, the chamber directors expect newly appointed CEO Jennifer Hall to take up the slack left by outgoing Nichols – something several who spoke during the meeting questioned.
“I foresee it all going downhill. I don’t see her (Hall) being able to devote as much time and effort with tourism causes as Carl (Nichols) has,” said Kevin Wolfe, president of the Claiborne County Historical Society.
Board member Nita Louthan, who is also a New Tazewell alderperson, said she feared tourism projects would “go back to the way it was five years ago with nothing being accomplished.”
Cumberland Gap Mayor Bill McGaffee agreed, saying tourism “is vital” to his town.
“Carl does a wonderful job. He has worked tirelessly to promote tourism. He devotes at least 20 to 25 hours every week to the job,” said McGaffee.
When it came time for the vote, board members Rodney England and Daniel England made the motion and second to eliminate the position.
Hall agreed she will have “a lot to learn,” and asked for the support from everyone, including Nichols in his new role as a volunteer.
After the vote, Nichols said he had had “a wonderful time” in his role as tourism director and that his position was “a learning experience.”
He asked that he be allowed to continue work on a couple of vital tourism projects and was seen, after the meeting, networking with representatives from nearby Cumberland Gap National Historical Park on one of those projects.
The full story will appear in the Aug. 19 issue of the Progress and online at www.claiborneprogress.net.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.