Another chapter in the need for transparency surfaced Monday night when the Cullman Hotel Association, a group of local hotel operators, publicly denounced the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce for operating in the dark when it comes to lodging tax money.

The group presented a letter to the Cullman City Council meeting and urged changes in how the tax money is dispersed and calling for those dollars to be taken from the chamber. The letter was also presented to the chamber’s executive committee earlier in the day.

Additionally, the hoteliers suggested the chamber’s tourism committee be separated from the organization so it can operate independently and in the open.

These are all good points.

In 1992, a local legislative act funneled a share of the lodging tax to the chamber with the idea the organization could use the money to promote local attractions, businesses and bring visitors to the area. Today, to re-appropriate the tax funds away from the chamber will take a new legislative act.

It’s time city, county and state officials, along with local business representatives, create a new plan outlining the best use and distribution plans for the lodging tax. In 2018, approximately $715,000 in taxes were collected.

The complaints leveled at the chamber, particularly the organization’s executive committee, are that accountability and transparency on the use of the money are missing. This lack of transparency is believed to be a primary factor for Wallace State Community College and other organizations for recently rescinding chamber memberships.

The surprise announcement in March that Cullman County Schools had plans to build a $30 million sports complex, partly funded by lodging tax dollars pledged by the chamber, caught many off guard.

The decision to pledge the money to the now-shelved sports complex was made in a small circle of chamber members and county school administration. There is no evidence indicating involvement by the general chamber membership or elected officials prior to the pledge to what beforehand was only known as Project X.

As is typically the case, time has proven that shadowy dealings with public money are a set-up for disaster and mistrust.

It’s time for city, county and state officials to have access to all budget expenditures associated with the lodging tax, and all future decisions concerning the use of the tax must be in the open for complete transparency.

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