Chamber contract, bids discussed during meeting

Two decisions facing the Poteau Chamber Board of Directors remained in limbo after their regular monthly meeting Tuesday. A recent offer by the City of Poteau to enter into contract with the chamber, which would take over management of the Donald W. Reynolds Community Center, was somewhat resolved but still on hold after action by the board. Questions about the legalities of the agreement โ€” such as any impact the partnership might make upon the chamber's 501(C)6 tax status โ€” needed to be answered after the previous meeting.Chris Ward, chamber board chairman, said the chamber reached out to the Crowe and Dunlevy law firm for a legal opinion as to any consequences brought by the contract. Ward told board members an opinion was received from the firm, saying there should be no legal issues, but Ward said it wasn't quite the opinion the board was seeking as it was not a formal tax opinion. After discussion among the members present, it was decided to request a tax opinion before sealing the deal. Ward said the firm was paid about $1,500 for the first opinion and the tax opinion could cost between $2,000 and $2,500 but felt it would ensure the board's decision upon the advice of the tax opinion would stop legal challenges. Ward expected the opinion to take about two or three weeks to be completed and after discussion, it was agreed unanimously to approve the contract city contingent upon the tax opinion. The resulting move of the chamber into the DWRCC will leave the current facility available for lease and the chamber subsidized by the city at about $2,500 per month for management fees. A second lengthy discussion was held in regard to the publication of the annual chamber directory. A production promoting the businesses and communities, the booklet provides information about the area that until three years ago, had been created by the chamber. "Basically the chamber always handled the directory and did it however or whenever they wanted until last year when (Poteau Daily News Publisher) Robert [Shearon], being new, requested that they would like to do it. And as members we brought to the board." said Wages. Chamber CEO Karen Wages said that in 2011 and 2012, the Times Record of Fort Smith, Ark., had published the directory after being able to offer agreeable prices for other publications. Last year, Poteau Daily News pushed for a bid process on the directory. With the board in agreement to take bids, both companies submitted offers and PDN was awarded the contract. With time for the publication to print again, the question arose โ€” alternate the publication with the two chamber members annually or change to a bid process for the job. The issue arose about a week ago after Shearon said he met with Wages, who told him the Times Record would be printing this years directory. Shearon said the Times Record confirmed it was printing the directory, at which time Shearon said he asked the chamber to bid on the job. Ward announced after reading the agenda item, that last year after PDN was awarded the job, the board had a discussion to be fair and alternate years with publishers. Ward said that discussion failed to be put in the last year's minutes, which resulted in this year's discussion. After discussing the minimum requirements for the directory, with the addition of including advertising prices, general discussion began. More than 10 minutes later, the board approved a motion to begin an annual bid process on the directory. Both companies submitted bids, the Times Record is offering the chamber 15 percent of gross revenue and printing up to 8,000 directories and PDN is offering 21 percent and 10,000 directories with the previous year's advertising rates. The Times Records rates also remain the same as their last year's rate. With discussion of the bids being heard, Ward questioned if the 6 percent higher PDN bid was to compensate for a previous social media post by Shearon that addressed the directory contract. Several members voiced their unhappiness with what they called an attack on the chamber. "I didn't make a single negative Facebook post," said Shearon. "I stated what the situation was and I didn't make a single comment on that."After further discussion about the post, the board members asked to enter into private discussion without the presence of the bidders. When open meeting resumed, Ward announced they would need additional information from both bidders and would send the requests and a decision would be made at the next meeting.