September 17, 2013 10:04:35 AM
Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau board meetings will continue to be monthly events.
A motion to change CVB by-laws to require bi-monthly rather than monthly meetings failed in a 4-4 deadlock. A two-thirds majority is required to pass a motion that would amend by-laws.
Directors Mark Castleberry, Nadia Dale, Dewitt Hicks and Bart Wise cast votes in favor of the meeting date change. Bernard Buckhalter, Whirllie Byrd, Leon Ellis and Rissa Lawrence were in opposition.
CVB executive director Nancy Carpenter said she'd been asked by several directors about the feasibility of a bi-monthly meeting policy. A letter to directors included in Monday's meeting packet from CVB attorney Chris Hemphill states he was requested to evaluate the matter and found the board would be legal in amending the meeting by-law.
Buckhalter said the board did not direct Hemphill to research the matter during its August meeting and asked whose recommendation it was to do so. Hemphill said Carpenter and Hicks asked him to review amending the by-law.
Buckhalter then questioned the purpose of changing the meeting policy. Wise said a majority of what the board does on a monthly meeting basis was streamlined when the board set its budget last month, approving grant funding for local festivals all at once instead of on a case-by-case basis. The CVB executive committee, which consists of Wise, Dale and Hicks, discussed the change, Wise said.
"Now that it appears we've got the festivals ironed out and on a schedule of who's going to get funded and knowing whats going to get funded, we've basically taken care of that for the year," Wise said. "Everything else we do on a monthly basis has really calmed down and almost has gone away to a certain degree. We thought to look and see if we could go to a bi-monthly meeting and send financials out to everybody on a monthly basis. That's when we asked Nancy to get an opinion."
Ellis echoed Buckhalter, saying he thought the board had to consult Hemphill. Wise said Carpenter or the board as a whole had to do so through a vote.
Lawrence said she did not receive the letter from Hemphill in her board packet. Buckhalter then said he did receive the letter in his but was opposed to the policy because the finances need to be approved on a monthly basis.
Byrd said an issue concerning by-laws should come from the board and not Carpenter.
"Nancy just does not have the authority. I don't know if Nancy has been misled that she has the authority to change meetings or to obligate funds for (Hemphill) to even research this," Byrd said.
Castleberry, participating via teleconference, said the board took action to empower Carpenter to engage the attorney and was not giving up any authority.
Byrd continued to voice concern about using taxpayer money for research of changing a meeting policy.
"I think if a person cannot attend meetings regularly, they should resign from their position. To have to change the monthly meetings to bi-monthly, we already have very little oversight of the financials until two months later sometimes," Byrd said. "This defeats our purpose of being a fiduciary of taxpayer money... We're an eight-member board right now. We should be privy of any information just like the executive committee. If Bart knows about it, Whirllie should know about it."
Dale said she could see the benefit of a bi-monthly schedule but was also concerned that all board members are kept updated about financial information routinely. The CVB board of directors has been without a ninth member since June, when Harvey Myrick was ousted after it was decided by his appointers, Mayor Robert Smith and Lowndes County board president Harry Sanders, that Myrick was closely affiliated enough with a CVB-funded event for there to be a conflict of interest. The two have yet to name a replacement for Myrick since they removed him in June.
Byrd 'will sign' ethics policy
Byrd was the only dissenting vote during the board's June meeting on a motion adopting an ethics policy. During the board's July retreat, she was authorized to review the policy with Hemphill. Discussion of her willingness to sign the policy came up again during discussion on approving the minutes. Hicks asked Byrd if she'd signed the policy, and she replied she had not. He then asked if she planned to.
"The (executive) director should also sign a conflict of interest as well," Byrd said.
"My contract is full of ethics policies," Carpenter said. "It states what I will and will not do. I signed it and Dewitt Hicks signed it, and it's a signed contract. Do I have a problem signing an ethics policy? No, but I don't think that's the issue right now."
Lawrence then asked how much Hemphill's fees were for reviewing the policy with Byrd.
"They met for an hour and a half, so it would be $300," Carpenter said.
"Do you have a problem with that, Rissa?" Byrd asked.
"After hearing some of your complaints about other fees? Yes," Lawrence said.
"The only way to stay within the legal ranks of things is to have the attorney to advise," Byrd said. "It could cost a lot more if you do not have proper instruction from the attorney."
Hicks again asked Byrd if she would sign the policy. She said she would.
Anderson returns to discuss strategic plan
Don Anderson of Destination Consultancy Group came before the board for the first time after speaking to directors at their July retreat. Earlier that day, city officials and representatives of local businesses attended a community strategic planning workshop at the Trotter Convention Center. Anderson also presided over that meeting. They were divided into groups and asked to address challenges the city and county face in tourism development and marketing strategies.
Anderson presented a sampling of those to directors during the CVB meeting and said he would be back next month to further discuss finalizing a strategic destination plan.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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