The future of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission remains in limbo, and at least one member of the organization’s board is concerned that the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority is simply trying a different approach to absorbing the entity.
Representatives of the four “founding members” of the commission — the TDA, the University of North Carolina Asheville, the city of Asheville, and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners — are not answering questions about the next steps. They are, however, working on creating a new board of directors for the commission and a new set of operational bylaws.
“It’s very vague at this point. We really don’t know how it’s going to work,” said Sports Commission member Jan Davis, one of the nonprofit’s original members. “I suspect the new bylaws will be drawn up and will exclude the current board, and there’ll be a new board that will be formed.”
The upshot, Davis said, is that the commission will then be “taken into the TDA/Explore Asheville, as an entity there.” Ultimately, Davis continued, the commission “as we have been known for the last 13 years will be out of existence.”
Formed in 2010, the Sports Commission has brought numerous marquee events to Asheville, including the Southern Conference basketball tournament, the Billie Jean King tennis tournament, and the Great Smoky Mountain Grapple, a high school wrestling tournament. For the past year, the TDA has pushed for a merger under which the commission would become part of the much larger TDA/Explore Asheville entity.
At its Sept. 18 meeting, the Sports Commission members voted 10-0 to remain independent. At the meeting, the founding member representatives — TDA President and CEO Victoria “Vic” Isley, UNCA Athletic Director Janet Cone, city of Asheville Council Member Sage Turner and Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards — indicated that they would vote on the commission’s future at a Sept. 28 meeting.
But that meeting was pushed to Oct. 3, and the founding members, who hold the ultimate decision-making authority over the commission, put off a vote on whether to absorb the commission.
Instead, they issued a joint statement that read in part: “In our meeting today, we agreed to sunset the Founding Members model and establish a board of directors and will begin the process of revising the bylaws accordingly.” The vote was 4-0.
“If you have questions, please email those questions to all four Founding Members,” the statement said. “We will respond as one voice as soon as possible.”
Asheville Watchdog sent a list of questions to the four members regarding establishment of a new board, including:
- What’s the timetable for getting this done?
- Who will decide who is on the board?
- How many people will be on the board?
- What is the breakdown on board representation? By that, how many people from the commission? The TDA? Other entities?
- Does this in fact mean the Sports Commission will remain independent?
After five days with no response, Cone replied Oct. 10 via email with answers to questions from the sports commission’s board, stating, “Most of your questions cannot be answered until we get feedback from that group.”
What the commission wants
Stephen Zubrod, chair of the commission’s board of directors, said via email the process of forming a new board and bylaws “needs to be open and transparent and include the review and input of (the commission’s) Executive Committee and Board of Directors.
“The new, proposed Board of Directors needs to consist of at least nine members, as the Founding Members have specified that they will have four designated representatives on the board,” Zubrod said. “If the true intent of this process is to phase out the existing founding member model, having only seven members on the board defeats this objective entirely. We will be right back where we are right now, where the four founding members have all the decision-making power with a 4-3 majority.”
The overall goal, Zubrod said, is to have a collaborative process that “will help sustain the independence, excellent execution, and financial sustainability of the Sports Commission.”
The TDA, which has an annual budget of nearly $40 million, provides the majority of the Sports Commission’s funding — $230,000 annually. The city of Asheville and Buncombe County pay $45,000 each, while UNCA donates “in-kind” services. The commission has two full-time employees, interim Executive Director Chris Smith and Madison Davis, vice president of operations.
The Sports Commission has said it generates about a third of all overnight lodging stays in Buncombe County, although Isley has pointed out that the TDA has “put in dollars that make the difference between those groups coming here or not.”
After the September meeting, Isley noted that Explore Asheville also has a sports sales manager on its staff who books sports-related events outside of the commission’s work.
In answers to the Sports Commission’s question about sunsetting the commission’s current bylaws and if the “founding member” board model will remain, the founding members replied, “The plan is to revise the bylaws to sunset (or phase out) the founding member model and create a board of directors beyond the four founding organizations.” But they did not specify how many people will be on the new board.
Regarding the revision of the bylaws and whether the Sports Commission’s current board will be involved in the process, the founding members said they “have the legal responsibility for changing the bylaws” and will begin drafting new ones.
The founding members said they plan to use the Oct. 23 Sports Commission board meeting as an opportunity to get feedback in person.
Turner said via text message she’s “thankful the decision was for the Sports Commission to remain independent.”
“I look forward to the input of all board members later this month on what bylaws and the future board makeup should look like,” Turner said. “We’ve got games to play and events to plan. A few more huddle-ups and we should be ready to play ball.”
Davis, a former Asheville City Council member, remains skeptical about what’s coming, though. He suspects it will be a takeover.
“I don’t think there’s much we can do at this point,” Davis said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.