By Stefanie Jackson
In a cooperative effort with Accomack supervisors, Northampton supervisors voted on Nov. 20 to re-establish the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission after a controversy put the organization in jeopardy.
Accomack supervisors threatened to defund the tourism commission after discovering its executive director, Kerry Allison, opposed the poultry industry. Allison announced her retirement shortly thereafter.
Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robie Marsh will be the interim executive director of the tourism commission.
His contract will run from Jan. 1, 2019, until June 30. The new tourism commission will decide at the end of the trial period whether Marsh will continue in his new role.
The new tourism commission has six voting members, three from each county. That includes one supervisor from each county: Supervisor Billy Joe Tarr, of Chincoteague, for Accomack, and Supervisor John Coker, of Cape Charles, for Northampton.
Each board of supervisors appointed one citizen to the commission: Accomack chose Adam James, of Onancock, and Northampton chose Clarice MacGarvey, of Exmore.
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce and the Cape Charles town council also will each appoint a member.
The seventh, nonvoting member is Staci Martin, the Eastern Shore representative of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Coker was instrumental in getting Northampton a fair deal in the re-organization of the tourism commission.
He worked closely with Robert Crockett, the chairman of Accomack’s board of supervisors.
Coker commented on the fact that Northampton and Accomack now have equal representation on the commission: “The key thing here is, no major decisions get made unless we have a majority of the voting members, which means that we have to work together.”
Coker reported that he and Crockett agreed Accomack and Northampton should pay equal amounts to support the tourism commission.
Northampton currently pays $150,000 per year for the tourism commission, while Accomack pays $100,000.
Coker also announced the tourism commission has a new location with better visibility – at the Eastern Shore of Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Route 13 in Melfa. (The tourism commission is renting space in the building.)
He said the chamber of commerce and tourism commission will maintain separate budgets, finances, and staff members.
Comparing the tourism commission’s new and old locations is like “night and day,” Coker said.
Spencer Murray, the chairman of the Northampton board of supervisors, was “delighted” with the outcome.
But not everyone shared that sentiment.
Allan Burns, manager of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center, was concerned that the only requirements for membership on the tourism commission are “geopolitical,” and reconstructing the commission with nearly all new members could cause “a loss of continuity, a loss of experience, relationships, and things of that nature.”
“In two of the last four years we’ve been the most rapidly growing tourism segment in this Commonwealth of Virginia and I do not want to see that interrupted,” Burns said.
He pointed out there is no representative of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on the new tourism commission.
Burns also was “not excited” about Marsh acting as the executive director of both the Eastern Shore’s chamber of commerce and its tourism commission. He believes supervisors are being “unrealistic and expecting too much from one individual.”
Carol Evans, who was the first tourism commission member that was not a county supervisor, agreed that “somebody will be shortchanged in the process” of one person taking on two full time positions.
“It’s the best we can do right now,” said Supervisor Robert Duer, equating the alternative — such as Accomack and Northampton dissolving the tourism commission and going their separate ways — to a “nuclear” disaster.
Murray agreed. “It would have divided the two counties,” he said. “We would have no impact whatsoever advertising as a destination of the Eastern Shore.”
By Stefanie Jackson