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Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau On Rebound from
 Scandal of Previous Leader; Still Struggling for Financial Footing
By Daniel Wagner, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Aug. 16, 2006 - Until it receives a check from Suffolk County this Friday, the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission will be paying its employees with borrowed money.

That is one indication of how, despite what officials from Nassau and Suffolk counties agree has been a successful turnaround by bureau president Moke McGowan, the group continues to operate in the shadow of mismanagement by former leader and convicted felon Michael Hollander.

For more than eight months the counties have worked through bureaucratic hurdles and calls for greater accountability in the organization. Earlier this month, as the process continued, the bureau ran out of cash.

"We were at that crunch time," McGowan said. "If there was one more hurdle or hoop that would trip us up and go into September," he added, the organization would have had to temporarily lay off staff or cancel its fall advertising buy. The bureau has 15 full-time employees as well as seasonal workers.

Funded mostly by a 3 percent tax on hotel rooms in Nassau and Suffolk, the bureau spends almost $2.2 million each year promoting Long Island as a tourist destination and working with corporations and convention planners to sell hotel rooms and tickets to sporting events. Funding has not been delayed in the past, but this year, in the wake of Hollander's guilty plea in filing false expense reports and mishandling resources, the counties sought greater oversight.

Instead of giving a contract to the bureau, Suffolk put it out for bid for the first time, soliciting proposals from 15 entities that the public works department had identified as potential contractors. But only the convention and visitors bureau responded.

That process took from last October to February, after which contract negotiations commenced. Once a resolution to aprove the contract was presented to the legislature, the purchasing office determined it lacked a required statement that there had been only one response to the request. Finally, after the county official who sits on the bureau's board learned how close the group was to running out of cash, the contract was pushed through the legislature on a "certificate of necessity," a special process that allows it to bypass the usual public comment and review processes.

Legis. Cameron Alden (R-Islip) had early misgivings about giving the contract to the bureau again, even under its new leadership.

"Maybe we should have gone a little bit quicker with it, but when you're giving out a contract for that amount of money, you really have to consider all possibilities," he said. He said the delay also gave him time to become confident in McGowan's professionalism.

Nassau, for its part, did not receive state authorization to levy the hotel tax until May 31. It has completed contract negotiations and hopes to gain legislative approval for its share of funding sometime next month, according to Chief Deputy County Executive Christopher Hahn.


Copyright (c) 2006, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

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