CAPC plans to appoint interim director

Friday, February 14, 2020
CAPC chairwoman Carol Wright gave this handwritten release to a commmission employee after a special meeting Monday and instructed her to release it to the media.

By Scott Loftis and Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission plans to appoint an interim director, possibly as soon as its next regular meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

At a workshop on Wednesday afternoon at the Auditorium, commissioners discussed the parameters of the work to be performed by Lacey Ekberg, who had served as the CAPC’s executive director since August 2019 but will now work off-site on a contract basis for the next three months under terms of an agreement approved by the commission during a special meeting on Monday.

Under that agreement, Ekberg will be paid $7,500 a month for a minimum of three months, with a review after 90 days.

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioner Susan Harman said Ekberg should not be allowed to manage other CAPC employees as a contractor, nor should she have autonomy to communicate or negotiate with the commission’s advertising agency without approval.

“In my opinion, a contract employee should not be allowed to manage staff, negotiate or purchase without overview,” Harman said. “They're a contract employee and we in this situation with Lacey have said she's a contract employee.”

Harman said Ekberg also should be required to provide written updates on her work for the CAPC.

“The other thing I think should be in place is the written weekly update on the contract employee work-related actions and performance and that should be assigned to our interim director with commission access which means for that contractor you know what's going on because she's a contract employee,” Harman said. “I’m not trying to pick on Lacey but she's a contract employee at this time. She's not an employee.”

“I think you're right 100 percent,” responded commissioner Terry McClung.

Press release

Harman quoted from a report published Wednesday by the ES Independent. That report, headlined “Moving Right Along,” is a verbatim copy of a press release issued by CAPC publicist Gina Rambo shortly after Monday’s special meeting.

“The City Advertising and Promotion Commission held a special meeting on Monday, February 10, 2020, at noon,” the press release issued by Rambo says. “The CAPC determined to place the current director of the CAPC, Lacey Ekberg, on a 90-day contract at which time a review to finish out 2020 will be performed.

“This was a unanimous decision. The CAPC will continue to move forward with 2020 plans into 2021 under Ms. Ekberg’s leadership upon agreement to extend the 90-day contract.”

“It's open to interpretation based on what we did,” Harman said. “It's a 90-day review so there's no guarantee for anything after 90 days. [The Independent report] doesn't really concern me because I know what we did in the executive session. … That's not what that says.”

“And that's not what we said at the end,” said chairwoman Carol Wright.

On Thursday, Carroll County Newspapers obtained a copy of a handwritten version of the press release. CAPC finance director Rick Bright said via email that Wright wrote the press release and gave it to Rambo to distribute.

Later in Wednesday’s meeting, Harman reiterated her opinion regarding an interim director.

“We do need to assign an interim director,” she said.

“Yes, and I’ve already talked to everybody so that would be an agenda item next time,” Wright said.

Questions from Moyer

Jack Moyer, general manager of the Crescent and Basin Park hotels, attended the meeting and had several questions for the commission.

“My first question is what will be the role of Ms. Ekberg moving forward and is she our contact?” Moyer said.

“She's a contractor for 90 days,” Wright replied.

“Doing what tasks?” Moyer asked.

“Basically what she will be doing is she will continue her consultation with the agency securing buys and creative for the remainder of this year and positioning us for 2021,” Wright said.

“That's what she's doing for $7,000 a month?” Moyer asked.

“Yeah that's what she'll be doing,” Wright replied.

“So she no longer has a role in the office?” Moyer asked.

“We will be appointing an interim director to do that,” Wright said. “We just have to have a regular meeting.”

Later, Moyer asked about Ekberg’s role in the CAPC’s 2020 advertising strategy moving forward.

“Depending on the 90 days she will work on 2020 as much as she can get done,” Wright said.

Moyer said he had some concerns about Ekberg’s views on marketing Eureka Springs.

“Two things come to mind,” he said. “She had mentioned it's not smart promoting the family market because she never saw any kids here. The second thing she thought is why would we promote Christmas [because] we have nothing to do here during Christmas.”

Moyer asked if anyone other than Ekberg would be providing feedback and direction to the advertising agency regarding editorial content for 2020.

“Not for 90 days,” Wright responded.

“For the record, I have grave concerns regarding that,” Moyer said.

“That's not accurate,” Harman said. “Lacey can't do anything on her own. She has to go through the interim director once we assign an interim director so in reality she's not doing it on her own because she has to report to a staff member which will be our interim director.”

Commissioner Jeff Carter said he met with Ekberg before he was appointed to the commission and believed she was “confused” about the CAPC’s Christmas marketing plan.

“This was when Lacey just got here,” he said. “We were just talking. She expressed to me — we were talking about Christmas I think at that time — she was unsure if the city actually wanted more marketing. She made a comment to me that she comes from an environment and from a place where some of the businesses said ‘hey we take off at this time.’ … I think she was confused at that time. I think she was unsure what we wanted at that point for Christmas.”

Moyer referred three times to “animosity” from Wright and apologized for “acting aggressively.”

“I’m not sure what has happened between the two of us, because it has not happened in the first person,” Moyer said.

“Thanks for your apology,” Wright said.

At one point during Moyer’s questions, commissioner James DeVito interjected, saying: “No more questions from the audience, please. Let's finish up here.”

“Yeah, we're done,” Wright added.

Before the meeting adjourned, a reporter asked the commissioners what message is sent to the community when they refuse to comment on the record and then limit questions from the audience during a public workshop.

“I don't think we said no more messages,” Wright said.

“I said no more questions from the audience in that situation and the meeting was getting out of control,” DeVito said. “This is our workshop. We allow interaction with the public in our workshops. It was getting heated as we've already had apologies back and forth.”

After the meeting adjourned, DeVito approached a reporter and said: “It’s our workshop. We graciously allow the public to participate. There has to be some decorum. I believe in transparency. I also believe in truth in reporting.”

Employment status

Wright said at Wednesday’s meeting that a contract with Ekberg had been completed. As of Friday morning, Bright said via email that he did not have a copy of the signed contract but that it might be available later in the day.

Mayoral assistant Kim Stryker said via email Thursday morning that the city had not received any paperwork changing Ekberg’s employment status.

“Therefore there is no change to her employment status as a full-time employee of the City,” Stryker said in the email.

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  • So, let me get this information straight. The commission meets and decides on removing the discredited director with unanimous consent. Then Ms. Wright hand writes a press release apparently completely disregarding that decision and keeping the director through 2021. Ms. Wright is called out on this during the public meeting and then says the press release is not correct. Mr. Devito jumps in during questioning and says, “no more questions”. Seriously? Also, he says “we graciously allow the public to participate”? My gosh, you’d have to mortgage arrogance like that over 100 years.

    Also, what’s with the idea that we shouldn’t have Christmas activities or activities for families? Who doesn’t want Christmas celebrations or families in Eureka Springs? Oh yeah, she misunderstood Christmas. With all the huge amount of attention that Christmas celebrations have gotten this year. With all the success the city had last year during December with these celebrations and lights. With all the effort of trying to bring in tourists 12 months a year. Right. She misunderstood. Who gave the former director advice like that??? These people are just an embarrassment. I can’t believe the other commissioners allow them to make the whole group look so bad. The city needs to bring some credibility to the CAPC and quickly. Dump the troublemakers. Put one of the council representatives in charge temporarily and make them give updates at every city council meeting until stability is established. Or someone in the business community without any nefarious ties. Otherwise, if they allow this disaster to continue, it’ll end up painting the whole commission, CAPC and ultimately the city with the same disreputable brush until it’s irrecoverable.

    Your best bet is to get an interim director in as quickly as possible (with no ties to the “you know who's”). Get a replacement director as quickly as possible using a search firm and with no ties to the “you know who's”. Get as much money out of the hands of interlopers and into objective third-party ad agencies. Good luck.

    -- Posted by rb2020 on Fri, Feb 14, 2020, at 4:12 PM
  • To rb2020:

    I get confused with all the deception as well, but even with all the recent drama and turmoil surrounding the CAPC hiring and spending, there is still one very bright spot. The fact that good judgment finally prevailed in the contracting of an outside advertising agency assures us that, even with the predicted finagling by some, the primary work of advertising our city goes on. If only we had that the past couple of decades when the commission was filled with lots of ego but no experience in marketing a tourist city, we would not have lost so much ground. As it is, we are still paying the price for past inexperience and poor decision making and have much catching up to do. Still, even with the distractions, the work will go on performed by people who know how to do it (assuming a competent contact from our side is assigned). Increasing the budget for outside advertising would be definintely be a wise and worthwhile decision.

    -- Posted by outofthebox on Fri, Feb 14, 2020, at 9:26 PM
  • "The CAPC determined to lay, scratch on a 90-day contract Lacey Ekberg..."

    One must laugh in order to not cry over the crime that this commission is committing against tourism in Eureka. By not laying off Ekberg, many more will get laid off as tourism suffers.

    To outofthebox: how do you know that "the contracting of an outside advertising agency" was done appropriately? After all, it was pursuant to a recommendation of Lacey Ekberg, a proven resume falsifier and liar.

    -- Posted by EurekaFan on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 4:56 AM
  • To EurekaFan: Actually, the businesses have been wanting and recommending the return to an ad agency for years to get the money out of inexperienced, sometimes errant hands, and into experienced, unbiased hands that can be held accountable. Our greatest success was with an agency. We just ran them off. The only alternative would be to ultimately strike the tax entirely. You raise a fair point, however, as to whether the contract was done appropriately. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

    -- Posted by outofthebox on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 10:52 AM
  • To outofthebox: I am in favor of an "ad agency." The highly specialized knowledge that's required in this digital age simply doesn't exist in Eureka. Hence an "ad agency" or internet marketing firm.

    But the agency that Lacey recommended? Why that one? I'm suspicious.

    -- Posted by EurekaFan on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 2:09 PM
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