The decision on who will be awarded a $370,000 per year contract to market the city of Eureka has been delayed about another month.
After hours of sometimes tense deliberation and public comment from dozens of community members, the Eureka City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to do another round of interviews with the two firms selected as finalists for the marketing contract.
Feeling dissatisfied with services previously provided by the Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau, the council voted in February to end the City’s long relationship with the bureau and put out a request for proposals for new marketing strategies for Eureka. After receiving 12 proposals, a panel eventually narrowed it down to two firms: the local non-profit Humboldt Made and Virginia-based firm Eddy Alexander.
After two rounds of interviews with the two firms, city staff recommended that council award the contract to Humboldt Made.
“Humboldt Made was the top score by a very close margin,” Eureka Development Services Director Rob Holmlund told the council, explaining a little about the selection process and trying to ensure that it was fair.
Holmlund also addressed potential concerns about his relationship with Humboldt Made Executive Director Alanna Powell and whether Humboldt Made was possibly given an unfair advantage in the bidding process. Texts between the two were released earlier this month via public records act request and published by the Outpost last week.
“I am openly telling you and everyone that I did communicate with the Visitors Center,” Holmlund said. But, similarly to when he spoke about this issue to the Outpost, he said that this is just a part of his job. “It only makes sense that I would communicate with our Visitors Center about marketing tourism,” he said.
Holmlund, who was a part of the judging panel, also told the council that he actually scored Eddy Alexander higher than Humboldt Made. So he felt that he clearly had no bias in favor of the local company.
Holmlund and Powell’s communications did raise questions with the Council. But some members seemed even more concerned with the composition of the panel, which did not include any councilmembers. Councilmember Heidi Messner also pointed out that there were no marketing experts on the panel, which she felt would have been a necessary component.
Development Services Deputy Director Lane Millar went into further detail about the process of selection done by the panel — consisting of four city staff members, representatives from two other government non-profit organizations and several local business owners — and spoke about why he thought Humboldt Made deserves the contract.
“What I see with Humboldt Made is a lot of heart and a lot of people dedicated to Eureka and making it the best in can be,” Millar told the council. “I completely believe in them, I think they’re the right choice and I think the scores show that.”
But, because none of them were present during the interview process, some of the councilmembers were not satisfied with Millar’s explanation.
“Can I interject here? I really appreciate your enthusiasm for Humboldt Made,” said Councilmember Natalie Arroyo. “Because we weren’t there and didn’t see the presentations, I would love for you to also add what you saw as Eddy Alexander’s strengths.”
Millar said that although Eddy Alexander delivered the “most polished product,” he felt that they lacked the local insight necessary to brand to both locally and outside of the area. “I think there’s strength in being from outside the area when you’re marketing to outside the area. I still felt Humboldt Made did an overall better job in doing what the RFP asked for.”
Many members of the public spoke during the meeting, some who felt the the Council needed to do more research before making a decision. But many came out to voice support for Humboldt Made, which they felt has already been doing an excellent job of marketing Eureka. Many folks mentioned the success of the Friday Night Market, organized by Powell.
Several people also felt that awarding the contract to the local organization was clearly the best choice for Eureka.
“It’s really sad to see people doubt the qualities and abilities of people who choose this as their home,” Eureka resident Michael Hoff said. Hoff disclosed that his wife does work for Humboldt Made. “I worked for a firm in Virginia. I quit that firm. I don’t want to be wrong in doing that,” he said.
In the end, the council felt it could not approve awarding the contract to Humboldt Made. Members voted to hold another round of interviews with a new set of panelists, consisting of at least one councilmember and, hopefully, a marketing professor or professional from Humboldt State University. The council will again vote on which firm to award the contract, potentially on June 18.
Councilmember Kim Bergel felt that although many people supported Humboldt Made, enough of the public felt they were given an unfair advantage to warrant a more scrupulous selection process.
“This process has been a big bummer,” Bergel said. “Public trust is everything. The trust has been broken and that’s so unfortunate and so disappointing.”
In other business, the Council unanimously passed an ordinance permitting large pedicabs which allow alcohol consumption on board.
These pedicabs would have four or more wheels and allow for up to 15 passengers, who all must be at least 21 years old. No consumption of hard alcohol will be permitted and beverages cannot be in glass containers and must remain unopened until the passengers are on the vehicle. The pedicabs must also have both a driver and a monitor on board, who are not allowed to drink and both need to have LEAD certification.
Anyone interested in operating a pedicab business will need to apply for a permit from the city, have a business license and insurance. Proposed routes for the vehicles would also be approved as part of the application process.
Several councilmembers were enthusiastic about allowing these vehicles, which are already popular among tourists in cities like Portland and Sacramento.
“I just hope they’re open by my bachelorette party,” Councilmember Arroyo said.
You can view a full video of the meeting here.
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