The Joint Administration Board (also known as Island County Tourism) was formed by an agreement between Island County, Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley for the purpose of tourism marketing. The Joint Board has a 2022 budget of $557,500 funded by lodging tax dollars. This same money could be used for much needed infrastructure improvements and even affordable workforce housing. How is this money being spent?
“Visa gift cards for travel writers to purchase meals, $521.85.”
“Dinner for travel writer and guest, $301.32.”
“Dinner for Jet Set, $203.99.”
“Lodging for travel writer, $1805.00.”
“Hertz rental car for travel writer, $306.50.”
“Travel writer – influencer reimbursement for approved expenses, $378.38.”
“Farm style dinner with wine pairings for travel writers, $313.06.”
“Two night stay and breakfast for travel writers, $520.30.”
These payments are just the beginning. Meals, drinks, gifts and lodging for promotional hosting number into the thousands of dollars most months.
Outrageous, yes, but are these payments allowed if they serve a valid purpose, encouraging travel writers and Instagram influencers to say nice things about Whidbey and Camano Islands? Not according to the Washington State Supreme Court. A memorandum written by the State Attorney Generals’ office states “promotional hosting was held unconstitutional” and “by implication, promotion hosting is “beyond the pale” as a proper expenditure for other municipal corporations, even if they have authority to engage in economic development or trade or tourist promotion.”
This is just the beginning of the problems at Island County Tourism. Generous contracts are handed out without the required competitive bidding process. Excess payments are routinely made to contractors. Board members are receiving payments in violation of ethics laws. The Board ignores public records requests. Board meetings are held in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. A management committee makes financial decisions behind closed doors.
Contact your local representative that sits on this Board and demand accountability. They are Island County Commissioner Melanie Bacon, Oak Harbor Councilperson Jim Woessner, Coupeville Councilperson Jackie Henderson, and Langley Mayor Scott Chaplin. If you have an interest in Langley, urge the city council to take the money that is now sent to Island County Tourism (well over $50,000 this year) and instead use it to make improvements in our town and to help fund affordable housing.