Sharp pulls name from bid for VCVB post|[03/07/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Duff Green Mansion owner Harry Sharp has withdrawn his name as the nominee of District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders to fill an expired term on the board of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, saying inaction and indecision are indicators of deeper problems.

Sharp was nominated in November by Flanders, but has since run into roadblocks – most recently getting an answer to allowing the VCVB to use one of his downtown properties rent-free.

Sharp, 59 and former board member of the city-county tourism development agency, has also served as chairman of the Vicksburg Main Street board for 10 years. Main Street has been successful in adding and expanding events and promotions.

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&#8220I thought I could apply my knowledge and expertise to the VCVB board, which has been totally dysfunctional,” he said. &#8220I’m very disappointed I won’t be given a chance to bring the same type of working relationship to the VCVB. At the same time, I’m very relieved I won’t have to be dealing with constant stress and petty bickering.”

The initial question about Sharp’s appointment came because he was leasing space at 1300 Washington St. to VCVB staff who had been forced out of their headquarters at 1221 Washington St. by the January 2006 collapse of nearby structures.

Sharp offered the space for 15 percent of the market value for a five-month period, after which he said he and the board were to renegotiate to terms that would provide a more &#8220fair” payment plan to him.

After he was mentioned as a nominee, an advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission affirmed in January it would be &#8220unethical” for Sharp to receive any payment from VCVB funds.

Sharp said he then discussed the situation with VCVB chairman and joint city/county appointee Nelda Sampey and requested she discuss it with the board, which he said she did not do.

&#8220I don’t believe the chairman is communicating with the board,” he said. &#8220We’ve had numerous conversations about this, and it all turns out to just be lip service. Nothing is ever done.”

When Sharp appeared at the last board meeting, on Feb. 22, his offer was to lease the space rent-free for no longer than 120 days. He was told he would get a response, but he has not.

Sharp said his decision to withdraw his name came &#8220after much reflection” and &#8220with deep regret.”

Flanders, who said he has received Sharp’s letter &#8220regretfully,” chose the B&B owner and former restaurant owner based on suggestions by the local restaurant and bed and breakfast association, as well as a list produced by the Vicksburg-Warren Community Alliance.

&#8220He had a lot to offer the VCVB,” Flanders said.

Sharp said he will turn his focus to Duff Green, a property he has owned since he moved here from Miami 22 years ago.

&#8220I have accepted all of the outside challenges over the years and saw the potential of the town, and I think I have made progress,” he said. &#8220I saw an opportunity to sit on the VCVB board as an opportunity for the VCVB to do for tourism what Main Street has done for downtown.”

Sharp said he also plans to step down as chairman of the Main Street board when his term expires.

Sharp said he will give the board the option of staying in his building if they can agree upon a &#8220fair” lease agreement, which means the board would have to pay him something closer to market value.

Flanders said he will make a nomination to the county board at the next meeting, which is scheduled for March 19.

&#8220It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point,” he said. &#8220I am still committed to the restaurants having a voice.”

The VCVB was created by the Legislature at the request of local governments with board members to serve as volunteers and money raised by a special 1 percent tax to be spent on advertising, printing brochures and providing other assistance to promote tourism. The budget is now about $1 million per year.

After years of smooth functioning, the board has faced years of turmoil on a variety of topics ranging from the effectiveness of a strategic plan, attendance of board members and other matters.

The two largest steps taken in the past 18 months have been by local governments, which have agreed to appoint board members who work in tourism-related industries, and by the VCVB board, which, in a split vote, decided to contract out management services.

In addition to the seat to be filled by a nominee of Flanders, if ratified by other supervisors, District 2 Supervisor William Banks is due a nomination.