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Chamber of Commerce queries the City Council candidates

October 29, 2012

Candidates for three seats on the Bishop City Council gathered Thursday at the Tri-County Fairgrounds to discuss three questions crafted by the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce. The forum was moderated by Sally Simons (center), and candidates Pat Gardner, Keith Glidwell, Laura Smith and David Stottlemyre were in attendance. Candidate Susan Cullen was unable to attend, due to illness. Photo by Mike Gervais

 

Four of the five candidates for Bishop City Council met with an audience of about 30 residents Thursday evening to discuss local businesses and what they would do, if elected, to help Bishop’s economy. 

Incumbent Susan Cullen was unable to attend the forum due to illness, but did submit short answers to the three questions that were prepared by the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. Cullen was unable to answer two additional questions from the audience. 

Forum moderator Sally Symons drew the order in which candidates answered questions and gave each candidate five minutes to address the issues. She herself read Cullen’s responses to the Chamber’s questions. 

 

Many people that own

businesses within the City of Bishop reside outside of the city limits and therefore cannot vote for City Council representation. What could be done by City Council to let these business owners know that they have a “voice” and that they are important to and appreciated by 

the City of Bishop?

 

Current Mayor David Stottlemyre was the first to field the first question. 

“Those who don’t live within the city do have a voice,” Stottlemyre said, pointing out that interested individuals are not required to live in the city limits to serve on the city’s three commissions: Parks & Rec, Water & Sewer and Planning. Stottlemyre also said residents from throughout Inyo County, whether they own a business in Bishop or not, are invited to help with efforts at the Bishop Community Garden and the dog park.

“There is always an opportunity … to participate. Your voice means a great deal to us,” Stottlemyre said. “You’re always welcome to come to the council meetings and voice your concerns. We want you to come to the meetings.”

Stottlemyre also said that all five members of the City Council are active in the community and available to discuss any issues with residents. 

Challenger Pat Gardner was next to address the question, saying that Bishop business owners who do not live within the city limits do have a vested interest in the community. 

Gardner also said non-residents are always invited to participate on city committees and commissions.

“They certainly will have a voice with me, should I be elected,” Gardner said. “Their concerns will be listened to and I will continue to go out and contact businesses on an ongoing business.”

Incumbent Laura Smith said the business community in Bishop is one of, if not the, biggest revenue-maker for the city. 

Smith said she regularly gives out business cards to local business owners, regardless of whether they live within the city limits, so they have her home phone number and personal e-mail address and can contact her at any time with questions and concerns. 

She also said that, as mayor, she hosted regular “Coffee with the Mayor” events, inviting anyone and everyone to meet with her in an informal setting to discuss city business. 

She also said the Chamber of Commerce is a good resource for business owners to communicate concerns.

In wrapping up, Smith encouraged everyone to shop locally to show their support for local businesses. 

“Our business owners are amazing,” she said. “They support this community.”

Candidate Keith Glidewell said that everyone is welcome to attend City Council meetings every other Monday to participate in the public comment portion of the meeting. 

Glidewell said the city already helps fund the Chamber of Commerce, which represents many local businesses. 

“Buying local is the most direct and practical way to show a business owner you appreciate them,” he said, adding that, in his experience, “people really like it when you go up to them and ask, ‘What are your thoughts?’”

He also pointed out that the city offers a local contractor’s preference, which gives local businesses a leg-up when competing against out-of-the-area businesses for public contracts. 

“The most effective way to show someone they’re appreciated is to give them a contract,” Glidewell said, adding that he would encourage any local business to track and bid on city contracts when they are made available.

Cullen said that all business owners are invited to attend City Council meetings and serve on city committees and commissions. 

 

What can the Bishop Chamber/Bishop Business Community do better or differently to increase communications and strengthen the relationship between the business community (i.e., hospitality vendors/new potential businesses) and city leaders?

 

Gardner was the first to answer the second question, pointing out that the City Council has the potential to change every two years, “which makes it a challenge to communicate.” She said city staff, including the city administrator, is a bridge. “We need to build on this idea when funds are minimal,” she said. 

She said the city and business owners should both take a “how can we make this happen” attitude.

For the city’s part, she said supporting local businesses doesn’t just mean providing money, but also making it easy for local businesses to complete city paperwork if it is necessary and helping with grants when they are available.

Cullen said the Chamber of Commerce does a good job of communicating with the City Council. She added that a committee of local vendors could be organized to work with city leaders.

Glidewell said the most practical way to improve communication would be if there was “mutual attendance” of business owners, community members and city leaders at community events. 

He also said that the Chamber could introduce a topic at each of its Chamber Mixers, giving everyone in attendance an opportunity to discuss and share ideas on items of local concern. 

He also said that the Sierra Business Council has lost funding for its “Buy Local” initiative, and the City Council could look at ways to continue that program. He added that Buy Local is not a program the Chamber can support, as the Chamber also represents businesses that aren’t necessarily locally owned, such as corporate supermarkets or other big-box retailers.

“We can make an effort to create the Bishop brand with incentives for people to buy local.”

He also said it is important for business owners to share “the reality” of running a business in a remote, tourist-based community, where the cost of stocking inventory drives up prices in comparison to big box competitors such as Kmart or Walmart.

Smith said all local business owners should feel free to contact City Council members personally with any questions they have and are welcome to attend the council meetings and study sessions. 

She said she also appreciates the quarterly reports Chamber Executive Director Tawni Thomson brings before the City Council, and would like to see those reports on a monthly basis. 

Smith also said the City of Davis has a program it calls “Two-by-Two” that gets two City Council members and two Chamber employees together on a regular basis to discuss ideas for the community.

“We do have a good relationship now, but it can be improved,” Smith said.

Stottlemyre began by explaining that the difference between a resident and citizen is that a citizen participates in community events and activities, while a resident just lives within the city limits.

“Citizens, that’s what we really need more of,” Stottlemyre said. “This applies to our county as a whole. Get involved if you can.”

He also suggested that the Chamber bring back an old program called the Ambassador’s Club, which sent citizens to meet with new business owners to discuss the local climate and introduce them to Chamber activities. 

“The Chamber has 300-plus members, so several Bishop businesses are not members,” he said.

He said he would also like to see Thomson deliver her reports on a regular basis.

 

Historically, the City of Bishop budgets for tourism development after all essential programs have been funded, despite the fact that a significant portion of the city’s revenues are generated from the Transient Occupancy Tax. How might the city increase its annual investment in tourism development in a fiscally responsible way that recompenses the Visitor’s Center’s successful efforts to increase TOT and all tourism-related revenues for the city?

 

Gardner said essential services such as police, fire and public works require a significant amount of the city’s budget, and make Bishop a desirable place for tourists to visit, so using part of the TOT to support those department’s budgets “is reasonable.”

She added that tough economic times mean that city departments are doing more with less.

“It is difficult to increase the size of any budgeted amount, but the Chamber is a valuable asset,” Gardner said. “I will do everything possible to support their efforts.”

Smith said that tourism is one of the biggest revenue sources for the city, so it would be a benefit to increase funding for the Chamber of Commerce.

“We need to make the Chamber a high priority,” she said.

Smith said the city could use its business license tax authority to raise taxes on “pass-through” service businesses, such as gas stations or fast food restaurants, and earmark revenue from the tax to pay for services visitors use.

She also said the chamber has an opportunity to host a fall gala event to help raise money for its operations. “Everyone loves an occasion to come out for a gala event and the Chamber has a chance to have the biggest gala event ever,” Smith said. “With that money, we could look at more groups to come in, like the motorcycle clubs, bicyclists and photographers. We have a lot to offer them.”

Stottlemyre said that it is important for the city to be able to track any investment it makes to ensure it is seeing the expected returns. Currently, the Chamber of Commerce is looking at a way to track its impact on the TOT.

He also said that investments in public safety, public works and other departments make Bishop a place people want to visit, so it is important to keep those departments funded. 

In addition to the Visitor Center, Stottlemyre said the city helps to fund and participates in organizations such as the Laws Railroad Museum and Inyo Council for the Arts.

“We have quite an investment in the community, and they all help make for a better environment for the city,” he said. He added that there are state and federal funding mechanisms in place that require the city to spend money on certain programs, and “the city budget is not as sexy as it has been in the past,” which makes budget decisions a challenge each year. 

Cullen said it is a tough time for municipalities and if the Chamber can find a way to track its impact on TOT generation, she would be in favor of dedicating a percentage of that impact to financing the Chamber. 

Glidewell said the Bishop Visitor’s Bureau plays an important function in tourism, but he isn’t convinced that advertising “is the lifeline it is portrayed to be.”

He said fire, police, water and parks all consume their portion of the budget and “it is essential those basic needs are covered.”

He said he wouldn’t approve siphoning money from those departments to invest in tourism.

The question with any investment, Glidewell said, is “Can you afford to lose? Right now we can’t.”

Glidewell said the question of how much to invest in attracting tourists to the community is a question best posed to local business owners, as they are more closely impacted.

With the prepared questions answered, two residents from the audience had follow-ups.

One resident asked Smith if a resort fee could be charged to help fund city functions.

Smith said she did not know, but the idea sounded similar to raising the TOT and earmarking a percentage of those funds to specific causes.

A young audience member asked Glidewell specifically what can be done to help get graduates, who often remain in the community and start careers, get involved in community functions. 

Glidewell said the City Council’s “Council on Campus” program has been a successful way to get students involved in city government and said he would like to inspire young citizens to run for local offices, saying it is one of the “responsibilities of being an American.”

Stottlemyre added that the city’s scholarship program, which requires high school students to attend three council meetings and write a paper on their experience, has been successful in getting local youth interested in city government. 

Smith said the City Council is currently looking into a student intern program that would hire local high-schoolers. 

Gardner said local business owners should be more vocal about what jobs are coming up in the community and what skills are needed to fill those positions.

In conclusion, each of the four candidates in attendance said they would make themselves available to any community member who had additional questions. 

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