End convention secrecy

January 30, 2003

CONTROVERSIES have paralyzed the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association so long that the impending exit of its president, Carroll R. Armstrong, is not enough to cure the mess. Only a full public airing of the agency's deficiencies can ensure a turnaround in the city's lackluster tourism effort.

That's why it's flabbergasting that the BACVA board, citing spurious privacy concerns, refuses to release a recently completed outsider's evaluation.

Last September, when veteran marketing executive Marshall Murdaugh was hired to oversee the performance review, BACVA promised to make the results public. It should honor that pledge; keeping the report under wraps only generates rumors and speculation that further sully Baltimore's reputation as a convention city.

There is another compelling reason to end the secrecy: Most of BACVA's funding comes from taxpayers. Certainly the public has an interest in knowing, if not a legal right to know, what's going on.

This is particularly so because BACVA has now hired Mr. Murdaugh as a caretaker while a search is conducted to find a permanent president. And his evaluation report includes recommendations on how BACVA should be restructured.

Indeed, Mr. Murdaugh's credentials are stellar. He has headed convention and visitor bureaus from Atlantic City, N.J., to New York to Memphis, Tenn., and as a consultant has straighten out troubled convention businesses in other cities. His expertise clearly is needed here.

Our concern is the organization's puzzling secrecy. That's what landed Baltimore in this trouble in the first place. When public accountability was missing, the slide in convention bookings could be concealed. As a result, Baltimore now hosts fewer conventions than it did six years ago, when the convention center was expanded at a huge cost to taxpayers.

With talks going on about building a taxpayer-subsidized hotel next to the convention center, Baltimore needs to make informed decisions and effective plans. That's unlikely to happen as long as the taxpaying public is kept in the dark.

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