Frank Lockwood, executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office, has been suspended, but the chairwoman of the group’s board of directors declined to comment about the matter.
The suspension comes in the wake of disagreements Lockwood has had with the Durango City Council about how funds from the lodgers tax are spent and the City Council’s move to examine contracting tourism marketing out to another provider.
Phoebe Ogden, chairwoman of DATO’s board of directors, said the issue was a “personnel matter” and declined to add further details about Lockwood’s suspension.
“We are moving forward with tourism marketing with the city of Durango,” Ogden said.
She added that the suspension is not interfering with tourism advertising campaigns for Durango.
Lockwood, who was hired in April 2017, confirmed he received a written suspension notice Tuesday. He is suspended with pay with no end date set for the suspension.
Before offering comment, Lockwood said he wanted to meet with various stakeholders to get more information about the action.
Earlier this month, the Durango City Council began examining whether to replace the Durango Area Tourism Office with a different vendor to market the town to tourists.
At a work session, Councilor Chris Bettin suggested seeking proposals for other vendors to handle tourism marketing in an effort to save money.
The city has contracted with DATO for years, Bettin said, and it doesn’t know what alternatives there are or whether another marketing vendor might be cheaper or more effective.
At the meeting, Lockwood said the move “feels like retaliation” for a disagreement he and the city had related to use of revenue collected from the lodgers tax.
Lockwood, at a City Council meeting in late November, suggested city leaders were breaking city rules by transferring lodgers tax dollars out of the Durango tourism fund to pay for transit, events, administrative fees, transportation and expenses in the general fund.
The tourism fund is expected to collect about $1.1 million in 2019. DATO receives $725,000 of that amount, and the remaining balance – $425,000 – is transfered to other city funds.
Lockwood argued that city rules prohibit transfers from the tourism fund without a City Council-approved resolution and “detailing the purpose and extent of such expenditures.”
City Attorney Dirk Nelson disagreed, saying the resolution to pass the budget in its entirety, a $92 million spending document that was passed earlier this month, is sufficient to meet city code standards.
Assistant City Manager Amber Blake said the city is not yet seeking proposals to replace DATO, but staff members are exploring opportunities that a new marketing vendor might provide.
The city has not done a study of the effectiveness of DATO, which manages public relations for consumer awareness, social media, broadcast, digital advertising and print advertising, she said.
Mayor Sweetie Marbury, Mayor Pro-Tem Melissa Youssef, Councilor Dean Brookie and Bettin entertained the idea of seeking a new marketing vendor, but Councilor Dick White said the move “leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”