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'This is like a civil war'

Medford City Council approved a two-year contract extension Thursday for Travel Medford to continue promoting tourism, but will form a stakeholder group of travel-industry members to manage a portion of city hotel tax revenue that funds tourism promotion.

Councilor Daniel Bunn, who proposed the stakeholder group, said it will develop a proposal for what entity should promote tourism.

Options include having Travel Medford — a division of the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce — continue the work, creating a nonprofit group to tackle the task or giving the job to an outside marketing business. The city also could seek proposals from entities who want the job, and let them compete to be chosen.

Although the Travel Medford contract will be renewed for two years, the city has the right to cancel the contract with six months' notice.

Business owners and some councilors have raised concerns that Travel Medford does not promote businesses that are not chamber members.

Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Brad Hicks said the chamber does ask all businesses to join and has increased its ranks, but he doesn't tell Travel Medford what businesses to feature in tourism promotion.

He said if councilors want Travel Medford to promote businesses regardless of whether they are chamber members, they should give that direction. He also noted not all businesses are tourism-related.

Hicks said the controversy has divided the community unnecessarily.

"This is like a civil war in our community. It has pitted friend against friend," Hicks said.

Two of Travel Medford's five staff members have resigned recently — Senior Vice President Anne Jenkins and Director of Branding and Marketing Jez Kline.

Councilor Eli Matthews, who works for the chamber, has been appointed interim director of Travel Medford. Medford-based Spotlight Marketing will assume responsibility for marketing Travel Medford, according to the chamber.

Matthews did not vote on the Travel Medford issue during the council meeting.

Dozens of business representatives praised Travel Medford's success in boosting tourism and hotel stays.

But most representatives from hotels who spoke at Thursday's council meeting advocated giving Travel Medford autonomy from the chamber of commerce.

Hoteliers said Travel Medford is focused specifically on tourism promotion, while the chamber's responsibilities include lobbying on political issues and promoting local businesses that belong to the chamber.

Other business representatives said Travel Medford and the chamber represent a strong, successful and efficient team.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.