Convention center: Longtime chairman loses spot on board
Authority declines to reappoint Karcher
HOLLIDAYSBURG — The Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority will need to name a new chairman when it meets this week after county commissioners failed to reappoint a longtime member and current chairman.
Richard Karcher, who has been on the authority for about 17 years and chaired it for about 10, was interested in reappointment, along with authority members Donna Gority and Matt Stuckey, whose terms were expiring in late 2021.
At a Dec. 28 meeting, however, commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster voted to reappoint Gority and Stuckey and to appoint David Foreman to terms through Nov. 12, 2026.
Burke, commissioner liaison to the convention center authority, recently told the Altoona Mirror that Karcher’s exclusion “was not a reflection on his ability.”
Before the vote, she said commissioners independently reviewed applications from six candidates with each commissioner assigning points to the applicants. The assistant county administrator tallied the points.
The three candidates with the most points — Gority, Stuckey and Foreman — were approved, Burke said.
Commissioner Amy Webster said that when she ranked the candidates, she was aware of Karcher’s longtime service. Webster, who has spoken of her desire to involve new people in county government, said that was the case when she ranked the applicants.
“I want to see us bring new people onto our boards,” Webster said. “For Blair County to keep up, we need to start encouraging and inviting new people to volunteer on these boards and authorities because that’s how people get involved.”
Burke offered a similar viewpoint while acknowledging Karcher’s longtime service.
“Any organization can benefit from some new perspective,” Burke said. “I do see value in transitioning.”
Erb declined to say how he ranked the six candidates.
“I only know that the three who were on the agenda got the highest rankings,” he said.
Erb also said this wasn’t the first time the county’s appointment process has excluded someone from further service.
In late 2019, Erb announced a call for applicants interested in serving on the board of assessment appeals. At that time, Erb was the only incumbent commissioner returning to office in 2020. After Burke and Webster took their seats, they and Erb followed through with seating new members on the assessment appeals board.
“I know there were some hurt feelings at that time,” Erb recalled.
Karcher said he was blindsided by his lack of reappointment, which he learned about by reading the Altoona Mirror.
“This was done in a very, very unprofessional manner,” Karcher said. “You don’t remove a veteran and incumbent board member without at least alerting them to your intentions and rationale.”
Burke said she apologized to Karcher for failing to make him aware of the pending action before he read it in the newspaper. Karcher said that when he spoke with Burke, she told him about the point system, something Karcher didn’t know about.
The problem with the point system, Karcher said, is that it failed to recognize an individual candidate’s strength, knowledge and contributions to an authority responsible for running a $2 million business on behalf of the county and the community.
“To me, this was clearly an arbitrary decision that reflected a lack of good business acumen,” Karcher said. “We, as an authority, have kept the convention center solvent with a great team of business leaders over the years. And we have never gone back to the commissioners and said we needed (financial) help.”
Until the COVID-19 pandemic affected business in 2020 and 2021, the convention center had revenue of about $2 million annually, which covered the bills and generated money for future improvements.
The facility, which opened in May 2001, paid off a $2 million mortgage early in July 2015. Karcher was chairman and encouraged authority members to vote in favor of the move that saved about $10,000 annually in interest.
Karcher was also chairing the authority in 2013 when it stopped depending on the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, now called Explore Altoona, to manage the center and transitioned into that role. That responsibility remains intact for the authority whose members are: Dan Taddei, Jamie VanBuren, Pat Miles, Michael Fiore, Ron Beatty, Anna Caporuscio, Gority, Stuckey and Foreman.
Before voting on Dec. 28, commissioners had no public discussion about Karcher’s lack of reappointment or the point system that excluded him.
Media law counsel Melissa Melewsky of the Pennsylvania News Media Association said the commissioners’ use of a point system to rank applicants for a non-elected appointment wouldn’t violate the state’s Sunshine Law, which outlines how governing boards conduct the public’s business.
“But it certainly could have been handled in a much more transparent way, not only for the public’s good but for the candidates being considered,” Melewsky said.
Nothing in the Sunshine Law, she added, would have prevented commissioners from publicly discussing the proposed appointments or the results of their point system.
“These are public servants they’re appointing,” Melewsky said. “So if they wanted to, they could have a discussion on the candidates and the type of candidates they want to appoint to any of their boards.”
Karcher said he will miss working with those involved in running the convention center.
“I’ve had a wonderful experience there and I’m going to leave with my head held high,” Karcher said. “But I do feel hurt that I’ve been removed from a role where I think I was doing the best job I possibly could.”
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.
If you go
What: Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority meeting
When: 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 19
More information: Agenda posted at www.blairconventioncenter.com