Deleted Convention Center emails

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”

Sunday, August 29, 2010 – 00:02

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

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13 Responses to Deleted Convention Center emails

  1. Fred C. Dobbs says:

    Interesting stuff. One minor? clarification: Mercer was hired by then city manager Dennis Hunter as the first employee of the newly created city department. Prior to that the convention center was an expense of the city but not an official dept. Happened about 2003.

  2. Trick Answers says:

    So is this answer “As I understand this is a rather expensive process” the reason a lawyer can violate law and get away with this answer to a direct question?

  3. Fred C. Dobbs says:

    “Trick”, that type of answer will stand unless or until someone comes up with the monet to sue the city to force them to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law. Just one of many things which make O/S “unique”.

  4. Can we steal your retirement dream? says:

    Ken: “Business Development is people coming here for vacation and liking it enough to come and open a business.” No seeking out businesses. No evaluation of needs. No assistance in due- diligence for businesses. No outreach. No plan. No execution.

    • Fred C. Dobbs says:

      Don’t blame Ken. He did the best he could in a position he had no background for. Blame the guy who hired an un-qualified person, Dennis Hunter. ken just asked for and got a good paying job with no guidelines or performance demands. I bet many of us would do the same. We oughta quit blaming the employees for the lack of knowledge and experience of their “leaders”. The only qualification for a leadership job in O/S seems to be the ability to shut up and go along with things.

      • Directors are supposed to be leaders says:

        He was then the Director of that “department”. He focused only on tourism and forgot his second responsibility. Also, you can learn to do most anything if you are willing. Can we all get city jobs without guidelines and performance demands? Oh we do have those jobs, we are the taxpayers. We get to write checks to support this folly without any guidelines. We do have a performance demand – pay or lose your property.

  5. Bungled Center says:

    Everything about the new convention center has been a disastrous failure and nobody is accountable and the director never was either. So what to do about this nice mess they have gotten us into?

  6. Fred C. Dobbs says:

    “Directors” Mercer did what he wanted and was allowed to do. The combination of the two very dis-similar job titles with no set goals and standards was an exercise in stupidity and lays solely at the feet of the councilmembers who allowed their employee Hunter to get away with it. People can learn but at some point they need to be confronted with existing knowledge. Ken was never required or funded by his boss to do this. So, as often happens in amateur Shores, he re-invented the wheel and we got a square one. And he pleased his boss, We have never had an experienced professional management team running our convention centers and until we do I would expect we will continue to pay professional costs for amateur results. We were told to outsource management from the planning stages of this facility. As per O/S traditions, we ignored the professional advice we paid for and the results are as per usual.

    • Enough of the excuses says:

      Even Rick Perry is smart enough to figure it out! Also Hawaii has the title. Just look up Director of Tourism & Business Development. Enough of the excuses. Hunter was city manager when they hired him, but there were others since him. Still Ken did the same thing.

      • Fred C. Dobbs says:

        There is a difference between excuses and facts. Just because someone wants things to have been done as they would have liked does not change the fact that they were not. Mercer did as pleased his bosses and just because we might have wanted him to do differently does not change the fact that he didn’t work for us and his bosses got to judge his performance. You and I might be very correct in our desire to have better performance from public employees but our only part in the play is to pony up the funds to pay them to do what someone else wants. Fun, ain;t it!

  7. Convention Center Debt says:

    In 2013 the payment on the convention center bonds was $155,000 at 4%. In 2014 debt payment jumps to $190,000 and the rate jumps to 4.2%. By 2019 the payment is $395,000 at a interest rate of 4.75%. These payments go on for years and years.
    After paying extra levies for the library, EMS and fees for more EMS, tax and fee payers may not be able to pay what is coming next. This may be the reason so few well paid city employees reside and pay taxes in Ocean Shores. Only those who have managed to no longer be Ocean Shores taxpayers can expect to avoid the looming problem of this convention center. Will new buyers be convinced to buy property here to pay off this increasing debt or will another thousand property owners just walk away?

    • Marketing is everything says:

      They are going to try to refinance the Convention Center in 2014. That just pushes out the debt though. The citizens paid for and got the library for the Lid Lift levy money. The citizens got EMS for 50 cents per 1000 with the EMS Lid Lift. They got nothing for the Ambulance Utility of $7.48 per month on the water bill. They got to bail out the General Fund and got the same amount of EMS they already had. Bait and switch. If you call it something to make old people fearful it will always pass. The next levy will be the “We may fall into the sea” or “Prevent Wildfire” levy. Either way, we will not see seawalls or a firebreak from the money.

  8. Why are you furious? A thank you to Tom. says:

    What’s the status on the e-mails currently? Are you still being told it will be expensive or are they hoping you don’t have the memory of an elephant and will forget it?
    Have you had any conversations with Toby Nixon lately?
    I don’t want to see it, but it seems that the only way to have an impact is when it costs the city money in lawsuits. “Poor” learning curve. “Poor” for the taxpayers. And if the city fathers were attending school – one would hope that they would not get a passing grade based on their participation.

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