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NOTE: On September 18, I sent a long series of questions to San Juan County Economic Development director Natalie Randall. Here is the email, her reply and my follow up…JS
EMAIL TO NATALIE RANDALL, September 18, 2018
Hi Natalie Randall,
I’m writing a Zephyr article about the “Make it Monumental” promotion that San Juan County plans to implement and I’d like to ask you some relevant questions. First, my article in September was a cautionary tale about the way Industrial Tourism established itself in Moab  twenty years ago, and was never intended as a personal attack on you. In fact, I was unaware of ROAM industry until just a couple days before we posted the issue, and I simply raised questions and concerns that were never discussed or mentioned in the county weekly newspaper. Obviously, the commissioners are pleased with your work and support your efforts. Days after The Zephyr story posted, the  “Monumental” campaign was announced in the San Juan Record.
I also understand that some of these questions relate to decisions made before you became the economic development director. Again, my questions are not personal. But I believe San Juan County citizens have the right to know that decisions are being made and goals are being established by local government that could affect many more of the county’s citizens than those with a vested financial interest in a booming recreation economy.
First, I recently examined the “assessment” that you provided to Jami Bayles. When was the “Roger Brooks International”  firm hired by the county, how much time did they spend in the county, when was their work completed, and how much were they paid?
DICIO Group, a public relations firm, is reportedly being paid $5,000 a month by the county. Can you confirm that and what is their role as it relates to tourism?
As I understand it, a firm called “Relic Agency” is doing the ad campaign. How much are they being paid and when will their campaign be ready for public dissemination? And how long will the campaign last? If the county believes it has been a success, is there a plan to increase promotion even more?
In your June 2018 working meeting with the commissioners, you said, “…we’ve done small matches in the past of like $10,000 or less. This year we’re kind of pulling a big one. We’re doing a $400,000 campaign project. We already have $200,000 that were typically allocated in our budget for marketing. This type of marketing specifically so we want to capitalize on that.”
That’s a 2000% increase from previous promotions (4000% counting matching funds), based on your comments. That is a dramatic increase. Is there any limit that the county might impose upon itself to keep tourist promotion from spiraling out of control?
You also stated that, “across the county there’s a lot of support for the campaign and there’s excitement for it.”
Can you tell me which tourist businesses specifically signed on and can you tell me what other businesses and individuals, not tied to the tourist industry also support the plan?
San Juan County has a population of over 16,000. What percentage of the county’s residents do you think was aware of the “Make it Monumental” campaign as it was being developed, before it was finalized and on course to be initiated? In other words, how many of the county’s citizens were aware enough to object or offer criticisms before it was too late to bother?
Further, you talked about building new tourist infrastructure and told the commissioners that you would first, “reach out to the residents…is there anyone that wants to take on that need? And if there isn’t, then our office (is) going out and recruiting, and bringing in outside business to do that. We’d like to keep it local first if possible, and then grow from there.”
So if there isn’t the interest locally, or more likely there is a lack of expertise and the financial resources to build a bigger tourist infrastructure, you plan to go outside the county to recruit new businesses to exploit what you clearly regard as a lucrative opportunity. How does that benefit the local economy, other than an increase in the county’s tax base? (which is exactly what Moab and Grand County said and did 25 years ago.)
Your comments also remind me of remarks made to the San Juan County Commission four years ago by Ashley Korenblat,  the executive director of the Outdoor Business Network (now “Public Lands Solutions.”). She said,  “You’ve got to advertise to get people to come and to encourage people to start the businesses, but unless the business is there,  unless the restaurants and grocery stores and hotels are there, you don’t really see the revenue. It’s hard to see the benefit of the advertising. So it’s sort of this thing that has to evolve… Like, it’s just pure entrepreneurship.” (emphasis added)
Do you think that sums up the county’s views as well? Bill Haven, a passionate promoter of tourism has also aligned himself with Korenblat, writing in the SJ Record that he “gives (her) a lot of credit for trying to organize businesses and getting involved in the land use debate.”
Does your office work with PLS in any way and do you and the county commission share her approach to tourism and recreation?
I’d like to ask for your comments regarding some of Mr Haven’s other remarks at the September 4, 2018 commission meeting. He told the commission that in 2016 the county had “put in for kind of the same marketing grant in 2016 and we did receive acceptance of that grant…. but we never used that grant because of the situation at that time with the Bears Ears National Monument. We re-met as a group and said maybe it’s not appropriate right now, with what the county’s doing and the citizens of the county, with regards to the monument.”
The citizens who have contacted me recently about this matter cite the fact that the “Monumental” promotion, in name but also in its size and scope, smacks of hypocrisy. What’s different now?
Also, Mr Haven said at the meeting, ” I never heard one person say ‘my goal is to turn into Moab’.”
The fact is, NOBODY in Moab, twenty years ago, thought it would become what it is now. I lived there for 32 years and was one of the few to suggest that an Industrial Tourism economy could spin out of control.
I am sure that no one in their right mind, not even Mr Haven, wants to see Blanding become the “next Moab.” But could you tell me what your office and  county government thinks it can do to assure that San Juan County promotes a tourist economy that is predominantly beneficial to the people who live there now?  What specific steps can be taken to assure that goal? Does the county have a plan? How does it assure that the jobs created are living wage jobs? (And also, what kind of efforts is your office making to bring non-tourism jobs to the county? Can you be specific?)
And how does the county plan to deal with impacts to the community and the area caused by sudden increases in tourism? Is there a plan for that as well?
Regarding tourist-related jobs, Haven made an extraordinary comment to the commissioners on September 4 when he stated, “There’s a lot of people that work in the tourism business and cleaning rooms was never meant to be a career, it’s a way to make some extra money, and most people that do it say ‘great! I made some extra money!”
Haven makes it sound like people who work in the tourist economy cleaning toilets do it as a sideline. Very few Moabites who work in marginal tourist-related jobs (sometimes they work three jobs just to get by),  think of it as a hobby or a quick way to earn some extra fun money.
I can tell you that there are hundreds of people in Moab and untold thousands in other tourist communities in the West who would take issue with Haven’s remarks. In fact, I suspect they’d be furious. People in Moab are working minimum wage jobs and trying to survive in a community where housing prices have spiraled out of sight. They may not have “meant” for it to become a career, but hard economic realities have often made it so.
Does your office look ahead to deal with these kinds of issues?
And finally, Haven states that “this is the first marketing plan the county has come up with (in at least in 11 years).” Obviously it’s a massive spending increase from the previous decade.
You and other community leaders have seen the effect of tourism on Moab and Grand County. So why now? Nothing has changed in San Juan County except the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. While you and the commission may believe that a slight name change will solve the public relations issue,  the real concern for many is the amount of money being spent and the aggressive way the county is suddenly going after tourist dollars. Or was the county’s leadership opposed to the original monument proclamation only because of its concerns about federal government overreach?
After all, this promotional campaign comes on the heels of a very strong and united resistance by many San Juan County citizens who not only opposed the original proclamation but who also objected to and resented the massive marketing of the area by mainstream environmentalists and the powerful outdoor industry. A monolithic tourist/recreation economy is not a future that many San Juan citizens want. In fact, with good reason, many dread the notion.
Consequently, does your office and local government understand why so many citizens — in and out of the county — are looking at this tourist promotion as a contradiction?
And I think it’s also fair to ask why a county government that prides itself on its conservative views feels it’s appropriate to publicly fund private industry. How is this compatible with the standard conservative perspective that government should stay out of private enterprise?
Haven even stated at the September 4 meeting that, “Some of the businesses have done some marketing on their own and has (sic)  success with it.” That makes perfect sense. I don’t expect San Juan County to help promote The Zephyr. Why should any business in San Juan County assume it should? As I understand it, the Transient Room Tax is not mandatory. (correct me if I’m wrong). The counties choose to impose the tax and at what level. Most conservatives oppose the heavy burden of taxation on citizens by any government entity. The TRT does little to help anyone in the community except those with a vested financial self-interest in tourism.
Those are my questions for now. I may have more later. Both Mr. Haven and your husband chastised me for not asking you questions directly when I wrote my first short article on bike trails…I hope this series of questions provides your office a greater opportunity for transparency with citizens of San Juan County.  I’d appreciate a reply to these questions at your earliest convenience, and please note that I regard all correspondence as on the record.
Jim Stiles
Hi Mr. Stiles-

Thank you for your email, I appreciate you reaching out with all the concerns and questions you have addressed. Due to the extensive nature of the request, the amount of requests being received by our office, and per procedure; I will need to request that you submit a GRAMA request. Our county clerk John David Nielson <>, also cc’d to this email can help you with filing the request.
Thank you for reaching out and your understanding.
All the best-
STILES REPLY…September 18, 2018
Ms. Randall,
I’m sorry but I disagree with you.
I am familiar with and have filed several GRAMA requests in the past with various government entities. As you know, the Government Records Access and Management Act provides every person the right to request records from any governmental entity in Utah.
GRAMA gives citizens the right to access government records, documents and correspondence related to a specific topic.
While I did request some hard facts, like the cost of tourism ad campaigns, I was mostly asking you, as the economic development director of San Juan County, for your opinion and perspective on the impacts of a significant planned expansion of the county’s tourist economy.
I’ll happily file a GRAMA to secure the documents that contain some of the cost details, if your office refuses to provide it, but I still believe it would be appropriate for you to respond to many of the other questions in a timely manner.
In fact, I have no idea how a GRAMA request would have anything to do with most of my questions, unless you are saying that your opinions on these subjects are somehow concealed in a document or folder somewhere among the county records..
Thanks again and I still look forward to hearing from you.

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