BY BOB MILLER
If councilwoman Marcia Ritter had a crystal ball, the vote on the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau might have been unanimous.
But uncertainty about the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the city by businessman Jim Drury caused Ritter to vote against letting the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce overtake the operation of the CVB.
Ritter was the only council representative to vote no on the issue. She explained that she is concerned how the lawsuit's outcome might affect voters' willingness to renew a hotel and restaurant tax scheduled to expire in 2004. If the city continued running the CVB, Ritter believes it would be easier to convince voters to renew the tax.
"If we still had control of the process instead of outsourcing, I think we would have more credibility with the voters," she said. "I am very supportive and sure the chamber will do a good job doing it. I just had a philosophical difference."
Drury has filed two lawsuits dealing with the River Campus.
In his latest filing, the one that influenced Ritter's decision, Drury contends the Cape Girardeau City Council ignored a Dec. 31, 2001, self-imposed funding deadline and extended an agreement with Southeast Missouri State University on the River Campus arts school project, violating the state's Hancock Amendment.
A ruling on the lawsuit could come later this month, Drury said Tuesday.
Drury's first lawsuit contended that the city could not use hotel and restaurant tax money to fund the river campus project. However, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in the city's favor earlier this year.
While Ritter was worried about the consequences of a possible loss in court, chamber president John Mehner argued that the chamber could help rally support for a tax extension.Mehner said the chamber could help endorse and support a tax measure that would go toward the CVB, while the city would be legally prohibited from doing so.
Drury was also pleased with the council's vote. He said a change in the current CVB is needed.
Drury, who owns hotels and restaurants here, described the CVB as useless. He said the chamber "couldn't do any worse" than the city.
But he thinks the city has put forth the "winning combination" as long as it sticks with the accountability, performance standards and timetables that were amended to the contract with the chamber.
"Without that, we're dead in the water again," he said.
Ritter wasn't alone in her concern about the ramifications of the lawsuit. Councilwoman Evelyn Boardman also expressed hesitation, but ultimately decided to vote for the switch in authority.
Mayor Jay Knudtson said the lawsuit didn't affect his CVB vote because the results of the taxes would influence voters to renew the hotel and restaurant tax.
"I contend it's a good tax if you look back and see how we paid for the Show Me Center, the Osage Community Centre and the soccer park," he said. "I think the results of this particular tax is one that the citizens would probably be in favor of."
335-6611, extension 127