For the better part of the last 18 years, the Greater Boise Auditorium District has had a bewildering kinship with the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau – a relationship in which the bureau has a no-bid deal to spend $1.3 million in taxpayer dollars with almost no oversight from the auditorium district that provides the funding. When a local hotelier asked legitimate questions about how the money is spent, the bureau refused to provide details, and the district remained aloof.
The district collects a 5 percent room tax on each hotel and motel in the district. A portion of that money goes to the visitors bureau to market the auditorium district’s Boise Centre.
The bureau is a non-profit corporation, supposedly separate and distinct from the auditorium district, yet the bureau’s executive director reports to the auditorium district board, and a member of the auditorium district board serves on the board of the bureau. And while the bureau contends it is a separate entity, it has never had to bid for the auditorium district’s business, and records from recent years would seem to indicate the auditorium district board has done little to oversee the bureau’s budget beyond doling out the money. Records also show that the bureau is able to exercise some control over the Boise Centre’s revenue stream – offering groups discounts for the use of the auditorium facility based on the number of hotel rooms a group rents.
While the district and the bureau are clearly intertwined, the bureau now contends it does not have to comply with the state’s public records law the way every other government agency in the state must. The bureau is refusing to provide detailed records of its expenditures to Ameritel Inns. The hotelier wants to know how the bureau is paying its employees, including bonuses awarded in the last year, the distribution of travel allowances and other expenses incurred by the bureau.
The bureau “is a private, nonprofit corporation and not an ‘independent public body corporate and politic’ or ‘public agency’ as those terms are defined under Idaho’s public records law,” bureau Executive Director Bobbie Patterson said in an email. “Therefore, the Bureau is not subject to Idaho’s public records law and is not required to respond to Ameritel’s public records request.”
On Wednesday, Patterson said she’s happy to provide Ameritel with whatever information it wants, if the hotelier’s operations manager is willing to come to her office and discuss his information request.
"Why doesn't he just come in and talk to us?” Patterson asked.
Bureau board chairman Mike Fitzgerald, who is also Vice Chairman of the auditorium district board, declined comment on the bureau’s stance, its relationship with the district or the district’s oversight of the bureau’s budget.
“You can talk to our attorney until everything is taken care of, “ Fitzgerald advised.
Patterson acknowledged that it’s probably time that the auditorium district re-evaluate the bureau’s cozy, perpetually renewable contract – which has been in existence since 1991. Fitzgerald wouldn’t discuss the issue.
The question of whether the bureau is a non-profit entity or an arm of a government agency – is a mirage. The bureau spends taxpayer money. It should answer to any public record request. And it should bend over backwards to explain how money is spent – however inconvenient or obtrusive the non-profit may think a public records request is. The burden is on it, not the hotelier, to comply. Furthermore, the auditorium district should be as curious as Ameritel about where the money went. Once in the hands of the auditorium district, the spending records would unquestionably become a matter of public record. And if the bureau won’t provide the records, the district should go somewhere else for its marketing services. Nothing good happens under the cover of darkness, and the fact that bureau is so guarded about its spending and the auditorium district is seemingly untroubled should make any taxpayer angry.