GERING, Neb. — Two Nebraskans are among four finalists to be the next director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

The finalists are Kim Kwapnioski of Columbus, Nebraska; Joseph McCorvey of Akron, Ohio; John Ricks of Lafayette, Colorado; and Mattie Scheeter of Lincoln.

Kwapnioski, a former executive director of the Norfolk (Nebraska) Area Visitors Bureau, is director of the Columbus Public Schools Foundation.

McCorvey is a director of sales for Carver Hotel Group.

Ricks is a former associate director of the Colorado Tourism Office.

Scheeter, who grew up in York, Nebraska, was director of sales for the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Convention and Visitors Bureau. She now lives in Lincoln.

Deb Loseke, chairwoman of the Nebraska Tourism Commission and director of the Columbus-Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, announced the finalists during a commission meeting Tuesday in Gering. The meeting coincided with the opening of the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference at the Gering Civic Center.

The commission plans to meet in the coming weeks to interview the candidates in a public session, Loseke said. The goal is to have a new director named by the end of November so he or she could begin working before the start of the Nebraska Legislature’s new session in January.

The job attracted 54 candidates from across the nation. The list was narrowed to 12 during a meeting Friday in Lincoln. A commission search committee recommended advancing five candidates to the interview stage.

One of the five, Kurt Burkhart of Charlottesville, Virginia, bowed out of consideration, Loseke said.

Commissioner Roger Kuhn of Lincoln said it wasn’t easy to narrow the list to a dozen and finally to five.

“There were a lot of quality candidates,’’ he said. “We want to make the best decision we can to serve the state.’’

The three-day tourism conference is the first since the commission fired director Kathy McKillip in May after a state audit faulted the commission for a lack of fiscal controls. The nine-member board pledged to tighten up lax accounting and financial oversight.

One of the audit’s criticisms was a $44,000 expense for one speaker at last year’s conference in Columbus, which drew 150 people.

This year’s conference has attracted 180 participants so far. Fees paid to the 16 speakers on the agenda amount to $16,450 total, according to commission officials. The commission tries to receive enough revenue in registration fees and sponsorships to cover the $68,000 cost of the annual conference.

Kuhn complimented Heather Hogue, the commission’s deputy director and grant administrator, for her work as interim director since last spring.

“She’s done a fabulous job doing a very tough job,’’ Kuhn said.

Kuhn said the commissioners appreciated the way that she kept them informed, especially while drafting a budget, and for keeping the agency moving forward during the transition period., 402-444-1127

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