Background: Ken Mercer was chosen as the first Ocean Shores Convention Center director, even though Mercer was a manager at J.C. Penny and had no relevant experience running such a facility.
A few years later, I became interested in the way Ocean Shores was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2% and 3% lodging tax money that came back to the city. With a committee of hotel folks pretty much rubber stamping Mercer’s budgeting, O.S. was putting about $300,000 a year into “promotions.” Yet few people ever saw any TV commercials, where was that money going? The Seattle ad firm of Howard & Frost was spending most of that money on “Internet advertising,” with hearty commission chunks of some $50,000 per year going to the agency. Jack Frost would come down to Ocean Shores once a month, and tell local hotel/motel representatives all about click-throughs and banner ads.
My curiosity really was peaked when I was meeting with Mercer and Frost, and Mercer interrupted to say, “Jack and I have to go sell some ads.” Hmmm . . . The Director of Tourism and Business Development going around to locals to get them to buy ads?
So I did what I do, started sniffing around, attending meetings, talking to people . . . and dropping public information/freedom of information request bombs. In one, I asked for copies of all communication between Mercer and Frost.
Guess what? A few of them trickled in, but Mercer noted, “I had computer problems and had to delete a bunch of stuff.” Months and months of emails were missing; this despite the fact that state law regulates retention of public records, including emails between parties with which a city is doing business. I shared this with public information guru Toby Nixon, and he supported my assertion that the city had the obligation to dig up the records; most email systems have backups, and it was stated that Ocean Shores had backups of emails. I asked then-mayor Garland French (“the substitute mayor”) about this, and he ignored me.
After Crystal Dingler was elected, I made several requests to her to dig up the deleted emails. After some back and forth, her ultimate answer was, “sorry, we can’t afford it.”
This despite the fact that, under Mercer’s “leadership,” the Convention Center/Tourism went deep into the hole, routinely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars more than it generated and necessitating some $750,000 in that old O.S. bailout, the interfund loan.
Does anyone care about this? Or, is it just, “that’s the way we do things, out here” — especially now that Mercer “was retired.”
Email from Dingler about this: erased mercer emails sept 2012
From a Daily World “Q&A”
Ken Mercer has been the driving force behind the Ocean Shores Convention Center the past five years and has seen the tide of tourism continually shift with the economy. The former retail executive came to the North Beach community to retire but found a new calling in helping to promote events that keep tax dollars and visitors rolling into the community. As director of the Ocean Shores Convention Center, Mercer is directly responsible for the planning and management of tourism activities, operation of the center, and planning and execution of the business development activities for the city of Ocean Shores. The position is under the direction of the mayor.
Mercer and his wife Julie have been married 41 years and the couple has lived in Ocean Shores the past 16 years. “After 37 years with the J.C.Penney Co., we retired here