Myrtle Beach officials are working to improve the city’s image and communication with residents and tourists, and part of the plan focuses on improving the transparency in how the chamber of commerce is spending taxpayer money.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, communications consultant Gordon Hirsch presented a multi-step plan aimed at developing a future vision for the city, surveying locals on current issues, creating an active, educating online voice, creating a central area that contains information from city departments and going beyond transparency.
But, Hirsch said, the city needs to tread lightly because “there’s already some sensitivity in the community about the spending for advertising and marketing purposes.”
In 2009, city officials voted to implement the 1-percent tourism development fee, which is handed over to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce for out-of-area marketing. Officials also give the chamber accommodations tax funds.
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Hirsch, who is a Myrtle Beach resident, said he does not know how the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce spends tax dollars like the tourism development fee and accommodations tax funds or if the money spent is an effective way to bring tourists to the area.
“We gave them $20 or $25 million in tax money, they need to tell us how they spent it, end of story,” Hirsch said. “And the city needs to take responsibility for requiring the chamber to do that because the city enabled the taxation in the first place.”
Hirsch’s presentation also suggested that all Myrtle Beach residents need to be heard by city council.
With a growing retiree population and an increased number of young families coming to live at the beach, Hirsch suggested a survey to include those groups rather than just tourists.
“I heard some frustration about people not getting it, people not understanding what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hirsch said. “That’s because we don’t do a very good job of explaining ourselves.”
The education portion of the plan would fall on the city’s communication department and spokesperson Mark Kruea. Kruea said the increased work may require additional resources in the department.
Hirsch suggested the team creating an online space where all information is easily accessible and creates a positive conversation.
“I don’t think social media is a great place to debate issues of seriousness, there’s just too much potential for people not to take those conversations seriously, to just troll, you know, to use some social media words,” Hirsch said. “We don’t want to put things out there to troll, we want to put things out there to make a difference.”
In April, the city posted a request for proposal for a communications consultant, paying $19,500 for a 90-day contract.
The decision came after two viral videos sent the city into the national spotlight — a shooting on Ocean Boulevard that left several people injured and a video of a Myrtle Beach police officer asking a homeless man to leave an area McDonald’s.
Both videos reached millions of viewers and received various comments from viewers.
“The intent of this whole exercise is not to make the city look better than it is,” councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat said during the meeting. “The intent of this exercise is to build up the city.”