CAPC selects Ekberg as new executive director

Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Lacey Ekberg

By Samantha Jones

Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com

After months of searching, the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission has found its new executive director.

The commission voted Wednesday, July 10, to offer the position to Florida resident Lacey Ekberg. According to her resume, Ekberg served as executive director of DeLand Chamber of Commerce from January 2017 and worked as a private contractor in advertising and marketing until June 2018. Chairwoman Carol Wright said the pool narrowed down to Ekberg and another candidate, saying both were qualified for the position.

"Both candidates were in town, and I think both of them will be regular visitors," Wright said. "I'd just like to thank everybody for their participation in the process of hiring a new executive director. It's been a lot of work and everybody has taken their jobs very seriously, and I appreciate it."

According to a press release, Ekberg accepted the position and will start working in Eureka Springs on Aug. 15. The release says Ekberg distinguished herself with a vast list of experience in the travel and tourism industry, working at numerous chambers of commerce, event centers and convention centers.

Ekberg will be relocating from Dayton Beach, Fla., with her husband Jeff and their dog Koda.

Also at the meeting, the commission heard from Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce interim director Damon Henke about taking out an ad for JackRabbit on the CAPC's website. Henke said 26 lodging businesses have signed up for JackRabbit, a booking system that lists lodging opportunities in real time.

"You enter your dates of stay, you search, it comes back and says what's available for you in town on those dates," Henke said, "which is the only thing we have like this locally."

This isn't the first time the commission has heard about JackRabbit. The commission considered partnering with the chamber on the system in August 2017, but a motion to do so died for lack of a second. Henke recalled that situation and said he's not asking for the commission to buy into the system this time.

"You are able to sell advertising on your website," Henke said. "We'd just like to participate like any lodging business would. We want to advertise on there."

Commissioner Terry McClung said it shouldn't be any problem for the chamber to run an ad for JackRabbit on www.EurekaSprings.org.

"We sell those," McClung said. "If you want to buy one, why can't we sell you one?"

Henke said interim director Rick Bright just wants to be sure everything is done aboveboard.

"And I do too," Henke said. "I would like to request we be able to put that at the top of the lodging page. Instead of it just rotating through as though it was another property, we'd like to have placement there."

"We can't do that," Bright said. "It's randomized."

Wright asked what happened the first time the commission heard about JackRabbit, and commissioner Susan Harman said the chamber asked the commission to pay for a JackRabbit membership.

"According to our restrictions and guidelines, we're not able to directly fund the chamber," Harman said.

Henke said the chamber accepted that decision and is happy to pay to promote the system on the CAPC's website.

"I was hoping we could do some type of partnership where it was more of a banner at the top," Henke said. "If it has to be randomized … it will be a way better situation than what we're in now, but to be at the top would be excellent."

Bright, who owns a lodging business, said he's not going to pay to be on JackRabbit.

“If that's a banner ad up there and they jump off to the chamber site, no one sees my listing," Bright said. "I wouldn't want it up there as a banner ad."

"That's the difference," Henke said. "You're looking at it as a person who has a business in town. You really should be looking at it as a visitor service."

"If you look this weekend, you might get six properties that come up with availability," Bright said. "That's not really a service."

Harman said the chamber would have an unfair advantage if they had a banner ad, and Bright agreed. Bright recalled when the commission voted years ago against offering banner ads on the website, saying the CAPC is supposed to serve all the tax collectors.

"We spend $750,000 a year to send people to our site," Bright said. "We don't want them to jump off to somebody else's right away. That's why we don't sell advertising banners and never have on our site. We just sell listings of properties and restaurants."

Commissioner James DeVito, who arrived to the meeting 40 minutes after it began, said he's not sure if the CAPC should sell listings to groups.

"It should just be individual properties," DeVito said. "You have all the individual properties represented by the chamber. The chamber in and of itself is a collective entity."

DeVito said it's important for the commission to figure this out.

"Is it individual properties or a collective group?" DeVito asked. "Can Branson come in and put a button there, too?"

DeVito suggested discussing the topic at a workshop, and Harman said she didn't think the commission needs to vote on accepting advertising on its website.

"Is governmental funding going through this process?" DeVito said. "They specifically mention chambers when we talk about enabling legislation. We've been down this road before."

Henke said the chamber isn't asking the CAPC to do anything, and DeVito said there's clearly concern about the issue.

"You should have been here at the start of the discussion if you want to jump in the middle of it," Henke said.

"Ooh," DeVito said. "I have a vote to take regarding this, and I have apologized twice."

"But you're off-track on your basis," Henke said.

"I'm asking questions, thank you," DeVito said.

Commissioner Bobbi Foster asked Bright to look into the legalities of running the chamber's ad, and Bright said he's sure the commission has a policy for this matter.

"Why don't we start there?" Harman asked.

Wright said it's important for the CAPC to be fair to everyone.

"Our tax collectors are our first responsibility, to be fair to them and not force them into spending more money," Wright said.

DeVito moved to defer the topic to the next meeting, and the commission agreed to do so.

The commission's next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14, at The Auditorium.

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