Last week, the Kingsville City Commission authorized entering negotiations with Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s John E. Conner Museum to revise the memorandum of understanding between the two entities and change the museum’s funding from a fixed percentage contribution to a flat rate.

Under the current MOU between the City of Kingsville and Conner Museum, which has been in place since 1979, the city provides funding through monthly payments to the museum equal to 14.285 percent of its Hotel Occupancy Tax, or HOT, revenues.

That contribution could be as much as $90,000 in Fiscal Year 2018-19 based on anticipated HOT revenues possibly exceeding $600,000.

City Tourism Director Janine Reyes said in a prior interview that the proposed change would allow her department to diversify art and historical funding as well as help with its fund balance that she said has been “depleting at a pace of about $155,000 a year.”

On May 16, the Hotel Occupancy Tax Advisory Board convened and recommended lowering the contribution to the Conner Museum to a flat rate of $30,000 per fiscal year contingent upon HOT revenues reaching $600,000.

If HOT revenues do not reach $600,000, then all non-personnel Tourism Department expenditures, including the museum contribution, would be reduced on a percentage basis.

In addition, the advisory board recommended reserving 5 percent of HOT revenues for art and historical funding requests by groups and organizations that contribute to increased hotel occupancy.

Conner Museum Director Jonathan Plant, who serves on the HOT Advisory Board that made the recommendation to lower the contribution, did not attend the board’s May meeting and did not vote on the proposal.

Plant did, however, attend the May 27 City Commission meeting where he spoke out against the HOT Board’s recommendation, saying that the museum depends heavily on the hotel occupancy tax revenues and it would be “severely hampered” without it.

The city commission took no action on the recommendation at that meeting.

The Kingsville Record reached out to Plant, but he declined to contribute to this story.

The HOT Board’s recommendation was again presented to the commissioners during last week’s meeting. During discussion, Mayor Sam Fugate told the audience that his understanding of the action item was that it would allow the city and the museum to enter into negotiations for a new agreement.

“So we’re not making any plans to do anything other than get the ball rolling,” Fugate said.

City Attorney Courtney Alvarez said the item would give city staff direction “so we know what to negotiate for on the city’s behalf.”

Fugate said their direction would be for the tourism department to “come back with something they can live with.”

Fugate also apologized to Reyes and her department’s staff for not stepping in when “we had people come up here and say things that were, quite frankly, not true” during the May 27 meeting.

“They made it sound like the staff was being deceptive, and they weren’t,” he said, referring to Plant telling the commission that he was “completely blindsided” by the agenda item at that meeting and he was “not given any warning, let alone 90 days written notice.”

Fugate said the Conner Museum is “near and dear to my heart,” but also said that “things are going to have to change.” He said the museum used to have fundraisers and events that are now “gone for some reason.”

“And part of the Conner Museum, part of tourism, is fundraising,” he said. “That’s part of the job, and all of my friends here that are supporting the Conner Museum, which I’m here to support them too, need to understand that it’s a different world. They need to start fundraising again like (the previous curator) did 20 years ago.”

Reyes then presented her report to the city commission, after which Art Pecos made the motion authorizing the City of Kingsville to enter negotiations with TAMUK to revise the MOU with the Conner Museum based on the HOT Advisory Board’s recommendations.

Dianne Leubert seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

In an interview Monday, Reyes said she and Interim City Manager Deborah Balli would be meeting with TAMUK President Mark Hussey this Friday as the two entities start negotiations.

“The 90-day notice (of termination) has been submitted and the process has begun,” she said. “And this is a process. It’s not ‘vote today, funding’s gone tomorrow.’ The purpose of putting it in place at this time is we’re (working on our) budget and it gives (Conner Museum) time to prepare accordingly on their end.”

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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