I am pulling this out of the "subject" thread so more folks can see:
BIG THANKS to those activists who worked behind the scenes to get this story published.
This is not one of the locations that I'm personally involved with, but one where others of like mind took the bull by the horns. However, without saying too much to alert the WTS where the next fire will erupt, there hopefully will be more News Articles like this one in the upcoming months. There are still several potential scandal locations which noone that I am aware are working on, so please continue to contact the media and local government officials in ALL cities where the WTS has been holding conventions for years.
Kennewick, Richland subsidies for church event raises questions
This story was published 1/4/2002
By John Trumbo
Herald staff writer
Kennewick and Richland have agreed to chip in $6,000 each to help subsidize the Jehovah's Witnesses Watchtower convention scheduled this summer.
The $12,000 will help pay for renting the Tri-Cities Coliseum, which Kennewick owns.
The money is coming from the cities' 2002 hotel-motel lodging tax fund. Half of the first 2 percent of the tax from each city goes to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, and the rest is divvied out as each city desires.
The Kennewick and Richland councils approved giving motel-hotel tax money to the Tri-Cities Hotel and Motel Association.
Each council was told by staff that the money would be "solely for the purpose of paying all or any part of the cost of tourism promotion, acquisition of tourism-related facilities, or operation of tourism-related facilities," activities allowed under state law.
Using the money to subsidize the coliseum rent is questionable, said Keith Lougheed, a specialist in the state auditor's office on lodging tax use.
"It doesn't sound right," Lougheed said. But unless someone from one of the cities complains to the auditor, it's unlikely the state will investigate, he said.
"Generally we don't interfere. We do audits (after the fact)," he added. "This is one I would pass by the attorney general."
Kennewick Councilman James Hempstead, chairman of his city's Local Tax Fund Advisory Committee, said he thought the $6,000 donation was for tourism promotion of the Watchtower events. This is the 10th year the convention is coming to the coliseum.
Association President Ginny Hill said Tri-City hotels and motels have been chipping in money to help pay the coliseum rent for the Watchtower convention for nine years. This is the first time the association has received a share of the cities' lodging tax money to subsidize the rent, she said.
This year, the difference between the rent due and what the Jehovah's Witnesses can pay is $17,500.
With $6,000 each from Richland and Kennewick, motel association members have to come up with the remaining $5,500, Hill said.
Tom Walker, whose term on the Kennewick council expired Dec. 31, said he, too, understood that the money was "specifically for promotion or advertising" of the Watchtower event, but he didn't know exactly how the association was going to spend it.
Other council members in Kennewick thought the same. Mayor Jim Beaver could not be reached for comment on the issue.
But Robert Noland, Kennewick's chief financial officer, said he was aware the money was "going to the coliseum to help pay for the rent," and he believes it is a proper use of the tax money.
"It can be argued that it is going for tourism," Noland said.
Although Kennewick could have discounted the rent for the convention and preserved the lodging tax money for other uses, Noland said the way it is being done benefits the bottom line on the coliseum, which has struggled to operate in the black. "We're trying to run the coliseum as a business," he said.
Promotions Management Inc., which oversees the coliseum for the city, reported just breaking out of red ink in 2001, when it was hoped to have at least $226,000 in profits.
Richland Councilwoman Rita Mazur said giving the lodging tax money to help with the coliseum rent may appear to be a subsidy for Kennewick's coliseum, but it's well worth it.
"Our (Richland's) hotel-motel tax committee agreed to it," she said, noting the convention is expected to generate 29,000 visitors over five weekends and bring $9.5 million to the Tri-Cities.
Richland council members were advised by a staff memo that the $6,000 donation would "complete the bid packet" and help "retain the convention in the Tri-Cities and expand the event to five weeks in 2002."