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Travel Medford's top official resigns

A second top official with Travel Medford has resigned amid growing fractures at an organization that is under pressure to separate from the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

“At this time, I’m resigned as of June 30,” said Anne Jenkins, senior vice president of Travel Medford, who issued her notice last week.

Jez Kline, director of branding and marketing for Travel Medford, announced his resignation last month, effective July 1.

Jenkins, who has been with the organization for 17 years, said she couldn’t go into more details about her reasons for resigning until after a Thursday Medford City Council meeting, when a two-year renewal of the Travel Medford contract is expected to be approved. The chamber receives $750,000 annually from transient lodging taxes to pay for Travel Medford, which manages tourism promotions for the community.

City Council members have expressed concern both over the chamber's role in determining how the tax funds are used and in the financial reporting the city receives from the chamber. They have also questioned the chamber's decision to not promote non-chamber members' activities.

Mark Wisnovsky, owner of Valley View Winery and a member of the Travel Medford advisory board, said it will be difficult to replace the two key employees of the organization.

“It will be much easier for Anne to find a job like this than for us to find someone to replace Anne,” he said. “I think the learning curve for somebody in those two positions, for the value we get in them, is steep."

Wisnovsky said the Travel Medford staff has been working under the shadow of uncertainty for a long time, and the uncertainty has affected their mission of bringing conventions and other events to the Rogue Valley.

“It has been incredibly jarring for them to be put in these situations,” he said.

Wisnovsky said national-level events have a three- to five-year time frame to work under, and with the contract with the city of Medford in limbo, it has been difficult to negotiate these long-term contracts.

One of those long-term events is the 2021 track and field world championships that will be held in Eugene. He said Travel Medford has been working to get events in the Medford area that tie into the Eugene event even though it is still five years in the future. He said that kind of spadework by Travel Medford has paid off over the years.

“Very few of these groups decide to have a convention or gathering in Southern Oregon or in Medford,” Wisnovsky said. “They would not come here except for the work Anne and her staff do.”

Gene Pelham, chamber board chairman, said Jenkins is a valued part of the chamber, but like any organization, the chamber has a plan to address the loss of an important member of its team.

He said he would accept the two-year extension in the new contract rather than the original proposal for a four-year extension. Two years will provide enough time to do a thorough evaluation of what is the best use of the transient lodging tax funds that go to Travel Medford, he said.

“I believe that Travel Medford as part of the chamber is a good, viable long-term solution and the best use of funds because of the connection to the business community,” he said.

Councilors have heaped praise on Jenkins’ leadership abilities while disagreeing on whether to separate Travel Medford and the chamber immediately or to study the options during a two-year contract extension.

Councilor Chris Corcoran has been one of the most vocal council supporters of Jenkins’ role at Travel Medford.

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” Corcoran said. “I wish Anne the best. She has been an extremely talented leader of Travel Medford.”

But Corcoran said it wouldn’t change his vote to approve extending the contract with Travel Medford for two years while working to separate the organization from the chamber.

“Travel Medford has been around a lot longer than Anne Jenkins or Jez Kline,” he said. “The organization is bigger than any individual.”

Corcoran said he had confidence the chamber would find suitable replacements to carry on the long tradition of Travel Medford.

He said it’s not the council’s job to tell Brad Hicks, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, how to do his job or run his organizations.

“Brad leads a very talented organization,” Corcoran said. “If the (chamber) board’s not happy with what Brad’s been doing as an administrator, that’s their decision, not mine.”

Other councilors have called for immediate separation of the chamber and Travel Medford, or to shorten the amount of time of the contract renewal to speed up the separation.

Councilor Clay Bearnson has been the most vocal councilor pushing for the separation of the two organizations because of what he views as a conflict of interest with the chamber, which takes a stand on political issues.

Bearnson has criticized the chamber for omitting his business and other non-chamber member businesses from the Travel Medford website. As a result, the council now has a non-discrimination clause in its proposed contract.

Bearnson said he sees Travel Medford’s loss of two of its five employees as a warning sign.

“Are they going to perform as well?” he said. “I’m concerned about their competency as we move forward.”

Councilor Daniel Bunn said, “It’s really tough to see Anne and Jez go. They made Travel Medford happen.”

Bunn said he’s disappointed that the council hasn’t taken a more definitive stance to immediately create a separate organization that could be made up of Travel Medford staff members.

He said the city gives the chamber a lot of money each year to run Travel Medford, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to set up a nonprofit that would give the organization its independence.

“Travel Medford needs to be separate,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Attracting tourist dollars to Medford is a role filled by Travel Medford, which has seen two of its key employees announce their resignations in recent weeks.. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Anne Jenkins