Six appointees begin search for executive director
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
The six newly appointed members of the non-profit Putnam County’s Visitors Bureau board, chaired by Barney Molloy of Cold Spring, is pushing ahead with efforts to hire an executive director to replace Libby Pataki, who resigned earlier this year after questions arose about her financial oversight of the agency, including whether it had a functioning board.
The Current sat in on the new board’s Sept. 28 meeting, its fourth, as members handled routine business, pausing to explain their reasons for wanting to serve and their perspectives on tourism.
However, after words of caution from the chairman, one subject remained off the table: Putnam County’s refusal to share sales tax revenue with the municipalities in which it is generated, which in western Putnam often involves tourist spending.
Molloy, the former Cold Spring Planning Board chair and mayoral candidate, explained that the board had not yet begun reviewing such policy matters as sales tax practices. “That’s not something we’ve discussed as a board, and that’s not something we’ve worked on with our attorney,” he said.
The tourism board began its work on Aug. 3, following months of uncertainty after Pataki’s resignation amid questions about her stewardship and the disclosure she had created a separate non-profit, the Putnam Tourism Corp., whose mission of promoting tourism mimicked that of the Visitors Bureau. Both organizations paid her a salary, and the situation and unresolved questions led to a New York State attorney general’s investigation.
The six members of the new board were appointed by Acting Tourism Director Frank Smith, who worked under Pataki and now runs the agency. Each had responded to an advertisement placed in the Putnam County News & Recorder and two newspapers in the eastern part of the county about the openings. Smith received seven responses. He told a legislative committee in July that he thought every applicant was well-qualified and so appointed them. One quit shortly after being chosen.
At its first meeting, the board members chose Molloy as chairman, and another Cold Spring resident, Deborah Walker, who has a background in administration in financial institutions, as secretary. Brewster realtor Kevin Callahan is vice chairman, and Phil Tolmach, a landscaper who serves on the Town of Kent Conservation Advisory Committee and Kent Planning Board, is treasurer.
Finding a leader
At its Sept. 28 meeting, the board devoted most of its attention to its director search, concluding the meeting with an executive session to review applications. Tolmach, the board’s treasurer, recused himself when the discussion began and left the room, noting he was among the candidates for the job.
The position, when advertised in April, gave a salary range of $65,000 to $75,000 annually.
Molloy said he expected the board would receive about 40 applications before the Oct. 14 deadline. The hopefuls so far include a dozen people who applied during a search conducted in the spring that was subsequently abandoned. The county — which oversees the bureau — rewrote the job description, adding more details, and Smith asked those applicants to reapply. For details, visit tourputnam.org.
Why get involved?
In a roundtable conversation at the meeting, and in two phone interviews, the board members explained their rationale for seeking the unpaid posts.
Barney Molloy, 56, says he came to the board because “I love a challenge” and can lend experience with non-profit management and related activities. He cited a study that determined that every $1 spent on tourism produces $7 to $9 in economic activity. That is a reality “Putnam County literally cannot afford to overlook. And the impact tourism will have, whether we effectively manage it or just let it happen, is something we have to be cognizant of, especially on the western side of the county. There are challenges to infrastructure on the western side of the county that maybe the county needs to be more aware of — and come up with a plan to ameliorate some of those impacts as well as maximize the investment opportunities. Putnam needs to step up, and that’s an important component of what the tourism bureau can and should be doing, coming up with a vision, a strategic plan.”
Elizabeth Carson Tompkins, 67, of Carmel, a retired high school English teacher and language department chair, she said she felt she “had the time to devote to local projects” and noted that “Putnam is strategically placed” to promote and significantly benefit from tourism. Moreover, “I’m a big fan of Putnam County” and what it has to offer, suggesting that one function of the Visitors Bureau is to “get behind” such events as Restaurant Week and help “make them happen.” She expressed enthusiasm for her new role and colleagues: “We’re all in this to learn and grow as a team.”
Philip Tolmach, 66, of Phil Tolmach Plants in Carmel, joined the board because “I’d like to help out,” a desire that earlier spurred his involvement in Kent’s civic life. “I believe I have some good ideas; I’d like to share them with the rest of the board,” he said. He described tourism as “the only growth industry we might have,” although he also would like to see the county “attract good green business,” such as select technology ventures. And, “I’d love to bring a hotel to Putnam County” at the right location, he added.
Victoria Causa, 59, an international human relations executive who lives in Carmel, explained that she loves the county, which she considers “sort of the diamond in the rough that people see as a pass-through as opposed to a destination. But there’s so much to offer that with the right focus and the right people pushing in the same direction we can make this a place where people want to come and spend some time and some money and really get the beauty and joy out of what Putnam has.” Also, “after having seen the struggles the county has been through, I think the outlook I bring can be refreshing” because of her global perspectives and experiences. She said she’d like to “attract industry on a limited basis,” but not in a way that leaves Putnam “overrun with a lot of people and crowds.”
Deborah Walker, 60, also has “always had a love for the county and wanted to find ways that maybe I could just participate and bring some of my talent” to the wider community. Her background includes event planning and she’s interested “in seeing how we could move forward…. We need to bring more tourism in, just make people more aware of what’s available. We need to have more money coming in.”
Kevin Callahan, 60, a broker with Covington Commercial Realty in Brewster, has found “I really enjoy being in Putnam County” and thus “take advantage of all or most of the amenities,” from climbing Breakneck, kayaking at Cold Spring and attending Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival productions at Boscobel to hiking in eastern Putnam. “In my mind, tourism is economic development,” he said. An advocate of turning old train tracks into trails, he’s mapped out possibilities in Putnam, which “is right in the middle of huge potential for rail trails” as well as “right on the cusp of some really great things happening” overall, he said. “If we can bring more people into Putnam it will help stabilize and lower property taxes. I decided to volunteer and see if I could add something to tourism.”
Many thanks to Liz for a great article about a subject which until now has been cloaked in mystery. That being said, after reading the piece I wassomewhat disheartened to find out the sad state of affairs that still exists within the Tourism agency, such as it is today, and the fact that it is taking so long to solve what is a really a very simple problem.
Thanks to the former director who was forced to resign, and to an incompetent Legislature that views our part of the County as the Wild West, the Village of Cold Spring, the single greatest tourist attraction in Putnam, has been all but forgotten except when it comes to the notorious senior center fiasco. As a result, the agency has been without a permanent director for over a year and this will be the second budget season in a row that will put the fortunes of Cold Spring at the mercy of the ruling junta in Carmel that has shown us how little regard they have for our people. Acting Director Frank Smith has done a good job all things considered, but he has been a placeholder ever since Libby decided to take her leave of absence to follow her husband’s ill-fated presidential campaign.
As I will explain below, I do not mean to criticize the good people who volunteered their personal time and effort for this very important and probably thankless job; however, it seems to me that after reviewing their various credentials, there is little if any real world experience in the tourism/ travel industry, running a retail or hospitality business, marketing, promotion, advertising, e-commerce, hospitality or any of the other aspects of the agency that they will be overseeing. .
Also, it was not mentioned how Mr. Molloy, who is a good friend of the Pataki’s, came to end up as chairman of the board. (Maybe we can ask David McKay Wilson to Connect the Dots as he has been known to do).
As we learned from Michael Turton’s article in these pages, Putnam County Tourism is not really much of a priority when it comes to Legislative spending of the $148 million budget. In fact, compared to our neighbors, the few hundred thousand that is earmarked for that purpose is but a pittance and most of it goes to staffing and administrative costs. There is simply not enough money allocated for the work that needs to be done because the Legislature considers it a low priority. Based on my own experience, it is like pulling teeth as the saying goes, to get money out of these people, and even our own representative, Barbara Scuccimarra, has been less than diligent in getting tourism funding for her district which includes Cold Spring.
Ironically, Mr. Molloy would allow no discussion of one of the few areas in which Cold Spring has some leverage — namely, sharing the sales tax that is collected from our local businesses. It’s never a good sign when one of the first actions of the chairman of a newly constituted Board is to try and limit the information that is given to the public. At the very least, this shows a lack of foresight and understanding of how to work with the legislators that will be calling the shots.
I wonder if any of the new board members will have the passion, the understanding and the tenacity to do what needs to be done to turn things around for our County’s tourism efforts. I wonder if any of them will understand the power they have or the courage to challenge a Legislature that is at best uninspired, at worst malevolent to its taxpayers and citizens.
Picking a new director has taken way too long and the process is needlessly cumbersome. The job description has been changed for whatever reason, and there seems to be no acknowledgement of the importance of taking a strong stand with the legislators to demand more money from the upcoming budget that will be in place before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Main Street business owners who have invested so much of their own money, continue to face the many challenges of an ever changing economy that sees more and and more of their former customers shopping online instead of in their stores. We need all the financial help we can get from the County to promote the real-world pleasures of Cold Spring that will draw people here to experience all that we have to offer. We need a Board and a Director who will be pro-active and work for us, not sit around talking about vague theories and possibilities. For all intents and purposes Cold Spring IS Putnam tourism.
I am disappointed to see that apparently I’m the only person out there who’s interested in this topic which should be of concern to every merchant and resident of Cold Spring. Like everything else that is done by the County (officials) the supposed efforts to promote tourism are minimal and ineffective at best and I don’t see things getting better with this new board, at least not any time soon.
This is the beginning of the Fall tourist season, usually our busiest, yet if you look at the County Tourism website, you would barely know that Cold Spring exists, let alone all of the wonderful shops and businesses that we have in the Village.
There are so many things that need to be done, so many opportunities that have been squandered, just in the last few years that I’ve had my shop on Main Street. I have single-handedly advocated for Cold Spring with the County officials during this time and can tell you from my experience that they do not prioritize the needs of Cold Spring. In fact, because the legislature is controlled by the eastern half of the county, we are barely recognized as the gem on the Hudson that we are.
Like I said before, we are now in the middle of the budget process that will determine how much money the tourism agency will be getting from the County. I have not read or heard of anyone else (besides me) who is willing and able to go before the legislature and demand more funding for Cold Spring.
And that includes the Village officials like Mayor Merandy, et. al., who have been on the Butterfield bandwagon for the past year, milking that controversy for all it was worth. Instead of spending all this time and political capital denouncing Roger Ailes and nitpicking the senior center, how about getting yourselves up to Carmel and doing something positive for the people you supposedly represent? You guys and gals are always complaining that you don’t have enough money, that they don’t share the sales tax, yet I don’t see you doing anything about it except whining in the press.
Really, folks, there is so much more that could be done for Cold Spring! There are literally millions of dollars available from state and even federal sources that could be available to us, but nobody in local government seems able to figure our how to get it.
The new tourism board has posted the minutes of their recent meetings and they make fascinating reading.
Very interesting cast of characters, including former disgraced board member, Legislator Scuccimarra, who says about the tourism agency that she “really wants to see it back on feet and functioning well.”
Based on my own experience with the County’s tourism efforts, I believe this entire cast of characters is pretty much clueless. I did not read anything that indicates that any of them have even the most basic understanding of Putnam’s No. 1 tourist attraction, which is Cold Spring, or how to showcase all that we have to offer.
It seems that Mr. Molloy’s biggest concern is getting officer and director’s insurance to protect the board against possible legal actions. What, already?
No mention of the current budget that was presented on Thursday. No mention of projects that have been presented, including our end-of-year efforts for the fall foliage and holiday seasons, even though I have been actively pushing acting Director Frank Smith for funding.
I’m sure everything will be just fine behind closed doors in one of the back rooms of the County office building. No need to let any of the stakeholders have any information. No need to do anything for the business owners and taxpayers. They’ll never know the difference anyway.
And the beat goes on.
Mrs. Villanova’s comments are right on the money. Yes, why is Barney Molloy so concerned with officer-and-director liability insurance? Is there something they are not disclosing?
A quick view of the Tourism Board’s events calendar shows zero items in western Putnam, but manages to include an item in Beacon at Long Dock Park! Well, since half the board hails from Carmel, they might not know that Beacon is in Dutchess County.
Next meeting of the Tourism Board is Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. on the third floor of County office building in Carmel. Yes, in Carmel — the center of their precious world.
Thank you Ms. Bachan for your comments. Glad to see that someone else is paying attention.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can start getting people from The Wild West (that would be Putnam Valley and Philipstown) to start attending these public meetings in force, as was done with the proposed senior center?
The only thing the Legislators will respond to is public pressure by lots of people, which is another problem we have. There are really only two of them from our two towns — Gouldman and Scuccimarra — neither of whom has shown any competency at their jobs. Unfortunately, most of the legislature comes from the eastern side of the County. They know that they’re safe from our wrath because we can’t vote for them.
Until we elect representatives who have the ability and courage to do the right thing, we are basically screwed.
Here’s a brief follow-up that is illustrative of the way the County works when it comes to the taxpayers and stakeholders of Putnam’s biggest tourist attraction, the Village of Cold Spring.
The current interim director, Mr. Smith, apparently has been instructed to shut down the tourism agency pending the appointment of a new director. All of the end-of-year projects for Cold Spring, including brochures and radio ads, have been put on hold. Mr. Smith now refuses to take my calls or respond to my emails asking (begging) for money for our tourism initiatives. I have asked him how much money is left in the budget and refuses to tell me. Next step will be to file a FOIL request to try and find out what’s going on. By the way, although these projects may be on a hiatus, I’m certain that everyone who works for the department is getting their salary regardless of how much or how little they work.
Some of the local merchants have come to me to discuss the new tourism board, mistakenly believing that this new group is going to improve our lot. I have no idea where or how they got that impression because nothing could be further from the truth.
The County officials who decide every year how to spend $150 million of our money are clearly not competent or able to do the job they were elected to do. Whether it’s the Butterfield senior center lease or helping to promote Main Street, they obviously couldn’t care less.