By Shereen Siewert
Wausau officials are one step closer to terminating their contract with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, a move unanimously approved this week by the room tax and finance committee.
City officials have been at odds with the CVB since discovering the organization’s director collected thousands of dollars in lodging tax from Expedia that normally would have directly gone to Wausau and other cities in the metro area.
The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department on June 17 opened an investigation into CVB Executive Director Richard Barrett’s actions as a possible “theft by fraud,” according to the incident report. But the detective in the case concluded that there was a “lack of communication and coordination” between Barrett and six municipalities including Wausau.
The report shows Barrett also contacted Expedia to collect on behalf of Mosinee, which terminated its agreement with the CVB more than three years earlier. Rothschild terminated its agreement months ago with the CVB “based on their inability to fulfill contract obligations,” Rothschild Administrator Gary Olson told Wausau Pilot & Review in June.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Wausau Finance Director MaryAnne Groat said the city would not meet the break-even point necessary to fulfill the city’s right to room tax dollars and meet the 37 1/2 percent obligation to the CVB, based on current projections.
Nick Patel, vice-president of the CVB board, urged the finance committee to work with the organization and recognize the contributions made to the community.
“We need to know how we can work together again,” said Patel, who owns four hotels in the Wausau metro area. “We need to know how we can get the trust, what brought the trust to be broken between Wausau and the CVB. Is it one person? Or is it the whole organization? We just want to work together.”
Wausau City Council member Lisa Rasmussen, who has been on the city’s Room Tax Commission since its inception, responded to Patel by explaining that part of the difficulty is the “looming threat of legal action by the CVB” against the local communities, including Wausau.
“As long as that remains active, those parties start to communicate between legal counsel and it’s difficult for us to hammer out any details in a public forum,” Rasmussen said.
Patel asked to keep the legal teams out of the equation and work one-on-one to solve the issue.
“Trust me, we don’t want to involve legal, because it’s costing everybody,” Patel said.
Barrett did not speak on behalf of the CVB at the meeting.
After going into closed session to discuss the matter with legal counsel, the committee voted to terminate the agreement. The matter now moves to the full council for final approval.