BY BRIAN JONES
The Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau met September 16 and discussed changing the meeting time, the board ethics policy and finances.
The board voted down a proposal to change from monthly to bimonthly meetings. The idea apparently originated with the executive committee. Several of the board members claimed that they learned of the proposal by reading about it in that day’s Commercial Dispatch, which carried a front-page story about it.
Carpenter pitched the idea to the board early in Monday’s meeting.
“This was a recommendation by the Executive Committee,” she said. “We would go from monthly to every other month. There is a letter from Board Attorney Chris Hemphill…he knows of no reason why we cannot meet every other month. It is his opinion that we can legally amend the bylaws.”
Whirllie Byrd made a motion to get the idea on the table for discussion, and was seconded by Nadia Dale.
“Why?” Bernard Buckhalter asked. “I don’t remember the board asking for an opinion on this. I’m trying to figure out how this came up.”
“(Board President DeWitt Hicks) and (Carpenter) asked me to do it,” Hemphill said.
“The board did not direct the attorney to seek that opinion,” Buckhalter repeated. “What is the purpose of trying to move the meeting?”
“One of the things we talked about is that now it appears we’ve got the festivals ironed out,” Secretary Bart Wise replied. “That’s been taken care of for the year. Everything else that we do on a monthly basis…it’s really calmed down and almost gone away. We thought we’d look and see if we could go to a bimonthly meeting and maybe send the financials out to everybody on a monthly basis. We asked (Carpenter) to get an opinion.”
“I think (Buckhalter) is correct,” said Leon Ellis. “The whole board has to direct the attorney to get an opinion.”
“The executive director or the board,” Wise said. “No individual board member can do it, but the executive director can do it.”
“Are there minutes of the executive committee meetings?” Ellis asked.
“No, there are not,” Hicks said. “At least in one paper it said the executive committee consists of four members. It does not consist of four members, it consists of the officers. It has no authority to do anything other than try to facilitate this meeting. The correction that I’d like to make is that the executive committee is composed of three members who, at the advice of our counsel, has posted notice of any meeting. Because of Ms. Dale’s schedule, Mr. Wise’s schedule and my schedule we have to have some flexibility about when we meet. But we have no authority to do anything, any more than a single board member does. We try to facilitate this meeting as best we can.”
[Mr. Hicks’s response – and his defensiveness – is as amusing as it is telling. I will rebut it next week in my column. Stay tuned! – Brian Jones]
“What concerns me is that previously the executive committee has done things without bringing it before the whole board, and that causes lack of trust, in my opinion,” Ellis said. “That action was endorsed at the last board meeting, basically, but that shouldn’t happen. There should be minutes and they should be in our packet at the next meeting.”
“We are not an action committee,” Hicks insisted, becoming more and more defensive.
“I understand,” Ellis said. “But that has happened in the past.”
“That has not happened,” Hicks began, but Byrd spoke over him, saying, “It has happened.”
“What was it, and when?” Hicks asked.
“The $10,000 raise for (Carpenter),” Ellis said.
[Last month it came out that the executive committee – that board with no authority to take action, according to Mr. Hicks – gave Ms. Carpenter a raise without telling the rest of the board. That seems like quite an action to me. The board discussed it in executive session and then voted to give her the raise. – Brian Jones]
“That was done at a retreat meeting,” Hicks yelled.
“No, no, no, it was not,” Buckhalter said. “That was not at the retreat. That was done in executive session. The board did not know anything about it. Even (this recommendation) is an action taken by the Executive Committee. DeWitt Hicks and Nancy asked the attorney for an opinion. We were never notified.”
“This is a recommendation coming from the Executive Committee,” Wise said. “We have taken no action. We have no authority. It is simply something we talked about. In order to bring you the recommendation we wanted to make sure from a legal standpoint that we could do it.”
“I understand your reasoning,” Ellis said. “The question was why didn’t you come to the board before incurring legal fees? That’s not the way you’re used to doing things, apparently, but that’s the way it should be done.”
Byrd and Buckhalter were angered that they found out about the potential meeting change through the newspaper.
“We shouldn’t be reading about this in the paper before we even have a chance to discuss it,” Byrd said. “It’s premature. I don’t think we should be changing the meeting time because some people can’t attend the meetings. If they can’t attend the meetings, they should resign. We don’t need to change the meeting times to bimonthly. We already have very little oversight of the financials. This defeats our purpose of being fiduciaries of the taxpayer’s money. We are a nine-member board, and we should be privy to what’s going on in the Executive Committee. If Bart knows about it, Whirllie should know about it. We don’t need to find out weeks later.”
“I want to understand why we’re trying to change the meeting,” Buckhalter said. “My problem is that it’s in the paper before we even discuss it. It was in the newspaper today, and most of us didn’t know about it until then. We need to have a better understanding of how the Executive Committee does things.”
The meeting change failed 4-4, with Castleberry, Dale, Hicks and Wise voting in favor and Buckhalter, Byrd, Ellis and Rissa Lawrence voting no.
Hicks asked Byrd whether she had signed the board ethics policy.
In June board members were presented with an ethics policy and asked to sign it. Byrd refused, stating that she would not sign anything until Hemphill met with her and explained what she was signing. Last month they still had not met.
Monday night Hicks demanded to know whether she had signed.
“We did,” Byrd said.
“Did he answer your questions?” Hicks asked.
“He did,” Byrd said.
“Did you sign it?” Hicks asked.
“I have not signed it,” Byrd said.
“Are you going to sign it?” Hicks, visibly annoyed, asked.
“If you’d let me finish, I think the director should also sign the conflict of interest statement,” Byrd said. “That is not in her contract. The director of all people should sign it.”
“I don’t have a problem signing it, but as I explained to you my contract is full of ethics policies,” Carpenter said. “There are statements about what I will and will not do. I signed it. Do I have a problem signing it? No, but I don’t think that’s the issue right now.”
“I’d like to know what Mr. Hemphill’s fee was for discussing the ethics policy with Ms. Byrd,” Lawrence said.
“They met for an hour and a half, so the fee would be $300,” Carpenter said.
“Do you have a problem with that?” Byrd asked Lawrence.
“After some of your complaints about other things, yes,” Lawrence said.
“I needed the attorney to advise me,” Byrd said. “It would cost a lot more to not have instructions from the attorney.”
“I’d like the minutes to reflect that Ms. Byrd met with Mr. Hemphill,” Hicks said. “And your answer about signing, Ms. Byrd?”
“You are just adding things to me,” Byrd said. “If you will let me finish…yes, I’ll sign it.”
“That’s all I ask,” Hicks said.
Wise reported that collections were steady.
“There has not been a lot of movement,” he said. “We had $136,000 in revenue last month. That is almost exactly on budget for the month, but we are running about $30,000 below what we budgeted for the year.”
Carpenter also reported that the line of credit has been paid down.
[Earlier that day the CVB’s paid consultant, Don Anderson, held a meeting at the Trotter to discuss crafting a strategic plan for marketing Columbus as a tourism destination. Mr. Anderson was on hand Monday evening as well to brief the board on the strategic planning process. I was unable to stay for his presentation because I had to leave to cover the Columbus Municipal School Board’s meeting. – Brian Jones]