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COLUMBUS — Thirty-five people have applied to lead the Nebraska Tourism Commission following the previous director's firing earlier this year.

Kathy McKillip lost her job as executive director in May after a state audit revealed the commission had reimbursed alcohol purchases using government money and had allowed advertising firm Bailey Lauerman to overrun its contract for the state's main tourism campaign by $4.4 million.

McKillip has since opened an ice cream parlor in Brownville.

Tourism Commission Chairwoman-elect Deb Loseke of Columbus, who is leading a search committee for the new executive director, said the job posting opened two weeks ago, and will close Sept. 13.

Commissioners hope to have a replacement hired in time for the annual Nebraska Tourism Conference, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 in Gering.

"We’re not sure that’s going to be possible but we’ll do our best," Loseke said Tuesday during a regular commission meeting at the Holiday Inn Express in Columbus. "We want to be sure we hire the right candidate for this position.”

Commissioners and Tourism staff have spent the past several months mopping up the mess uncovered by the audit, which was released by State Auditor Charlie Janssen's office in April.

The commission is still crafting regulations, policies and procedures recommended by the audit, with help from the state attorney general's office, said Commissioner Roger Kuhn of Lincoln.

On Tuesday, commissioners approved a two-year funding request that includes an 8 percent cut in appropriations from the state's mainline budget. The request must still be approved by the Legislature and Gov. Pete Ricketts, who recommended the 8 percent reduction to help ease the state's budget crunch.

The Tourism Commission continues to meet despite most of its members having reached the end of their terms. 

Commissioners are appointed to four-year terms by the governor, and five of the nine commissioners' terms expired July 1. The rest expire in 2018.

Loseke said the commission has consulted with Ricketts' office and was told the members could continue to serve until their replacements are appointed.

Also Tuesday, commissioners approved the 2017 Nebraska Tourism Calendar. The calendar, which is produced under the contract with Bailey Lauerman and is expected to be available sometime in October, features submitted photos and postcards from across the state, along with narratives about each picture.

Commissioners complimented the calendar, which leans heavily on rural imagery.

"These are Nebraska. One of a kind, specific, Nebraska," said Commissioner Lisa Burke of North Platte.

John Chapo of Lincoln, whose term as chairman ended Tuesday, was pleased as well: "I have people who wait for these calendars, and this one I think is going to be over the top."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @zachami.

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Assistant city editor

Zach Pluhacek is an assistant city editor.

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