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CVB Discusses Lower than Expected Collections, New Grant Requests

The CVB meet on November 19, 2012

At their November 19 meeting, the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau discussed a personnel issue, their financial outlook and grant applications for upcoming festivals.
Immediately after convening, the board went into a closed determination hearing at the request of Bernard Buckhalter. He wanted to discuss a personnel issue and an issue of pending litigation. The board remained behind closed doors for about 20 minutes before President Dewitt Hicks announced that they had decided not to go into executive session and reopened the meeting to the public.
Treasurer Bart Wise reported that collections from the city are down slightly, but there was an unexpected spike in county collections.
“This is the first month of our operating year,” Wise said. “If you look at our collections from the city, revenue came in at $117,000 from the city. That’s below where we’ve been running. We’ve been getting $123,000 to $128,000 per month. The county receipts, which have been running around $7,500, came in at about $17,000. That’s just a glitch that happens once or twice a year where the city or the county’s receipts are abnormally high. We’ve got a few other things we need to look at, but I think it’ll level out as the year goes on. If you look at the numbers, we came out about $15,000 in the red for the month, which I think some of it was just the timing of expenditures. If the revenue continues as a trend to be low, we’re going to have to tighten up on the expenditures.”
Buckhalter asked to see all bills generated by the CVB before they are paid.
“Prior to meetings, I want to see the bills before they are paid,” he said. “All other boards I’ve seen go over the bills before they’re paid.”
“You want to see all of them?” Hicks asked. “Why don’t you just make an appointment and come over here and look them over?”
“You’re missing what I’m saying,” Buckhalter said. “I’m saying the board needs to see the bills before they’re paid. That’s what every other public board does. All our public boards do this but us, and I’ve yet to figure out why.”
“Everyone has the opportunity to come in and look at every invoice, every check,” Wise said. “It’s not like you don’t have that opportunity. The other thing that’s a little bit different is that we don’t do purchase orders, and we try to get bills paid on a timely manner.”
“You can come in any time you want to and see any paper in this office,” Hicks said.
Buckhalter made a motion that all bills come before the board at before they are paid, and was seconded by Whirllie Byrd.
“In the audit, it stated that the board was approving bills after they are paid,” Byrd said.
“You did it for many years,” Hicks riposted.
“I’m talking about the last audit,” Byrd snapped. “The last audit said we needed to approve bills before they are paid.”
“That may not be possible for every single bill that we pay,” said Nadia Dale. “We only meet once a month. I think we need to look at these big bills for one-time events. Before I vote to bring every bill before the board I want to hear from the people who work here what challenges that’s going to create.”
“We hope going to the check register that is provided in all the board packets will let you see what’s going on,” Wise said. “You can look at it and ask questions at that point.”
“But if you disagree with a check, what can you do?” Buckhalter said. “It’s already been paid, the money’s gone.”
“Well then you come up here and we discuss disciplinary action against the person who paid the check,” Hicks said.
“You’re going to delay the recipients of the checks,” said Executive Director Nancy Carpenter. “We had somebody up here last week with a bill and they wanted payment that day. We pay bills once or twice a week. Are you going to make all those people wait for their money?”
“We shouldn’t be paying bills on a weekly basis anyway,” Buckhalter said.
[While I don’t disagree with some of Mr. Buckhalter’s points, I disagree with this one. If you’re a small business owner, you can’t always wait a month for a check. – Brian Jones]
Rissa Lawrence called for the question, and Buckhalter’s motion failed 7-2, with Buckhalter and Byrd voting yes.
Several festivals put in grant requests, but only Mike Law, representing the Memphis BBQ Network National Invitational Contest, addressed the board.
This was Law’s third time to address the board. He briefly recapitulated his talking points from his past two appearances.
“It takes place March 6-9,” Law said. “About 60 teams will be coming, and they represent all the winners of the contests over the past year. Each team will probably have four people. We’ll have about 150 judges coming in, too. We’ll be holding the event out at the fairgrounds, which has been renovated and is now a place we can be proud of. This is the first year they’re going to do it in this area, and if it’s successful I think it will become a continuing event.”
“How is the Memphis BBQ different from the Kansas City?” Byrd asked.
“This is separate from our Roast and Boast event,” Laws said, “and doesn’t really have anything to do with that or with [Kansas City Barbecue Society]. It’s an invitational contest only for teams that have won throughout the year. They’re from all over the Southeast.”
“I see you’re going to charge something at the gate to get in,” Lawrence said. “What is there for the people to do?”
“We’ll have a lot of vendors out there that weekend, food and craft vendors,” Law said. “There will be a lot of stuff for everybody.” “You are anticipating $10,000 according to your proposal,” said Harvey Myrick. “What’s your admission at the gate?”
“Ten dollars,” Law said. “We’ll be charging gate on Friday and Saturday. There won’t be gate admission the first few days. And to be honest with you that gate figure is a lowball figure.”
“Has MBN put any money into this?” Myrick asked.
“No,” Law said.
No action was taken.
Carpenter briefly ran down the list of what other applicants were requesting.
“Market Street has applied for $15,000 as a tourism event,” Carpenter said. “Tourism has a maximum funding level of $15,000, and they must spend 25 percent on entertainment and 25 percent on advertising. They got $15,000 last year. Grilling on the River asked for $10,950. In 2011 we gave them $6,000. Juneteenth is asking for $15,000 as a tourism event, in 2012 we gave them $14,000. They also applied under a quality of life event and asked for $8,000. I’m assuming they did that in case they didn’t get the tourism funding. I was not told that, but that’s the only thing that makes sense. They certainly can’t get two. Artesia Days asked for $8,000 as a quality of life event, and they received $8,000 in 2012. Townsend Festival applied under quality of life for $8,000, and in 2012 they received $12,000. Crawford Cotton Boll applied under quality of life for $8,000, and in 2012 they received $4,500.”
The grant committee will meet after the holiday to discuss the applications. As of press time the meeting is tentatively set for November 27 at 5 p.m.
During her report at the end of the meeting, Carpenter stated that District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks had met with her to go over the new grant guidelines.
“He called and wanted a copy of our budget, and then he wanted a more detailed copy of the budget, and then he wanted all of the job descriptions for the employees,” Carpenter said. “He asked to meet with me and said he was bringing with him Supervisor Jeff Smith and Councilman Kabir Karriem. When he came, there were actually seven people that he brought with him, including the mayors of Artesia and Crawford. I took time and explained to them once again about the grant guidelines. I think more than the budget it was actually about the grants and festival funding.”
[I suspect Mr. Brooks’s sudden interest in the inner workings of the CVB has a lot more to do with the more stringent accountability requirements and lower dollar amounts on festival funding than any actual concerns over the agency’s budget. I have heard around town that Mr. Brooks now wants to do away with the CVB altogether. I’ll be very interested to hear his reasoning. – Brian Jones]
Carpenter also announced that the CVB meetings in January and February will be held a week later than usual due to holidays.

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