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City Council Votes Overwhelmingly To Support Brucker And Split CVB

CITY HALL – When Mayor Barry Brucker stated his desire to separate the Conference and Visitors Bureau from the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, he knew he likely had the necessary three votes to make separation a reality.

But who knew an eventual vote could be 4-1, or even 5-0?

That’s what became evident during Tuesday’s three-hour study session. The two colleagues Brucker thought would oppose his plan, Vice Mayor Frank Fenton and Councilwoman Linda Briskman, showed they were amenable to separation, just not in the way Brucker had laid it out.

Briskman said there was no backdoor dealings, no secret conferences. It happened right there, in chambers, for all to see.

Brucker will get the separation he desires. But he won’t get it immediately or as efficiently as he wants. First, the ad hoc committee (headed by Brucker and Briskman) must work out a plan whose first step is to create some sort of strategic guiding council to oversee the separation.

Who will be on that council and at what cost remain to be determined. But the ad hoc committee must have the plan in place by Nov. 1. Brucker said public comment would be invited. The City gives the chamber $2.1 million to fund the CVB, $500,000 annually for the EDD.

After that, a CVB board of directors will be created. The chamber board will remain, but the CVB will have its own board, possibly made of chamber members, but not board members. Regardless, the CVB board eventually will wean itself from the chamber and become independent. Details of who can sit on the CVB board, and the exact timeline for separation remain to be worked out. But the era of the CVB as part of the chamber appears to be ending, much to the disappointment of chamber CEO Dan Walsh.

Walsh attended the study session and stated his support for KH Consulting’s recommendation to establish a strategic plan before deciding whether to separate the CVB. About 20 chamber board members attended as well. It was KH Consulting’s performance audit, released July 28, that caused Tuesday’s study session.

“I think the decision made by the City Council to separate the CVB from the chamber was precipitous,” Walsh said in a statement. “This is unfortunate because I know all the issues have not been thought through.  Hopefully they can be resolved as they are identified. The decision was apparently made without regard to the impact it would have on an 85-year-old institution that more than 30 years ago created the very entity it now wants separated

“The chamber will of course cooperate and do its part in the separation of the CVB from the chamber,” Walsh’s statement continued. “Our ultimate concern is what’s best for businesses in Beverly Hills, as we know a thriving CVB and chamber are integral to a successful business community.c

Actually, Brucker got most of what he wanted from his plan, which he spelled out toward the end of the three-hour meeting: The CVB would separate and have its own independent board of directors, the ad hoc committee would seek public comment to determine the most efficient path to separation, and then a transition task force would implement the separation in 12-18 months.

He also secured city manager Rod Wood’s endorsement. Wood told the council that an independent nonprofit CVB would be the best model.

“If we delay this decision … it is simply a delay tactic, a stalling of the inevitable and an irresponsible fiduciary action on the part of the council,” Brucker said.

Brucker knew he and Nancy Krasne would vote for separation. He knew Fenton would oppose. He knew Jimmy Delshad was the swing vote. And he thought he knew Briskman would oppose.

Sure enough, Krasne’s first words were “I support Mayor Brucker’s findings.” She later said she supported the separation.

Fenton made clear he opposed separation: “I’m not ready to an additional $150,000 to $200,000 until I see a long-range plan,” Fenton told the council. “The council cannot dictate to retailers.”

Delshad said the chamber management had become so convoluted that it was difficult to follow the money that the City allots to the chamber.

The surprise came from Briskman. She said she agreed to separation in principle. She convinced members that CVB executive director Kathy Smits needed to give input.

Then she got Krasne to agree to what she called a “hybrid,” in which the CVB and chamber boards coexist for a time. Then she secured Fenton’s approval if the retailers got their say. Finally, she suggested the Nov. 1 deadline.

“It’s a good compromise,” Briskman said afterward, “as long as it’s not arbitrary and as long as we find out how it will function and how much it will cost. The devil’s in the details.”

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