March 18, 2014 10:35:44 AM
The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors unanimously appointed Lester King to serve as its treasurer during its meeting Monday.
Bart Wise held that position for the board until he resigned last month with two years remaining on his term. Last week, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors appointed Brock Reynolds to replace Wise as its business and industry appointee. Monday marked Reynolds' first meeting.
King is a retired partner of S&K Door, a garage door business in Starkville. Monday marked his second meeting after he replaced former member Leon Ellis last month. Ellis chose not to apply for another term on the board.
CVB board member Rissa Lawrence nominated King.
"I know he's a new board member, but he has a lot of banking experience and business experience," Lawrence said. "I think it could bring a lot to the board."
No other board members were nominated.
In Wise's absence, CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter updated the board on its financials and other travel data. The CVB had a total revenue of $144,418.52 last month and spent $88,140.82. It is paying $8,000 monthly for the $133,000 line of credit used to help pay for the Old Highway 82 Bridge. There is still $112,058.33 left to be paid. Also, the CVB owes $432,819.54 on its building.
"As monies come in that would allow us to do so, I would like to pay that off," Carpenter said. "Our financial position is so much better. At one time, we had very little in savings. We had $100,000 in CDs and all our other CDs were being held as collateral on our line of credit. Once we paid that off, those were released. Now, I think our position is very good."
Carpenter also reported on sales numbers for Columbus and Lowndes County, saying gross room tax revenue was $250,433 and restaurant tax revenue was $1,595,022 in 2013. In total travel and expenditures, roughly $103 million was spent last year, Carpenter said, and there were 1,430 direct jobs in tourism employment. Tourism capital investment in Columbus and Lowndes County was $8.5 million, she said.
Byrd, Buckhalter call for mid-year audit, Hicks adjourns meeting without a vote
After the board named King treasurer and voted to grant Dinner Theatre the full $4,000 it could have received for the second half of its $8,000 festival grant, a motion to adjourn the meeting was seconded. Carpenter then provided board members a copy of the audit for the previous fiscal year to be discussed at next month's meeting.
Board member Whirllie Byrd then made a suggestion that another audit for this fiscal year to date be conducted "for financial integrity" and to ensure King was entering a fiscally sound situation as the board's new treasurer. Board President Dewitt Hicks then mentioned that accountant, Tom Buckley of T.E. Lott, was going to critique the audit of last year's finances and present it next month.
Board member Bernard Buckhalter then reminded Hicks that Byrd was referring to an audit of this year's finances so far.
"With the new treasurer taking over and him coming in not knowing what is going on, I think it would behoove us to have an audit so we'll know what the financial status is of this organization before he takes over as treasurer," Buckhalter said. "You don't want him to step into something somebody else did without knowing everything that's going on."
Carpenter said a mid-year audit would be a $9,000 expense and the board did not do one at the convenience of Jarion Jones when he took over as CVB accountant last year.
"We should have. I hope no one would have an objection. We're dealing with $1.6 million or so," Byrd said. "It just seems that even the new person should want an audit. We should have done it for Jarion but we just kind of let Jarion ease in there under Bart Wise's supervision, but now Bart is gone. He was our main financial guy."
Board member Mark Castleberry said Buckley, Jones and CVB staff were the main people overseeing finances and not the board treasurer.
"An abundance of caution is always a good thing, but it has to be weighed by reasonableness. I've been a member of many organizations. I've never seen the practice of having an audit when an officer changes," Castleberry said. "I'm not saying it's not done. I'm sure it is, but I've not seen it on budgets that are significantly larger than this. I think it also goes back to one of the functions of this board. We are a policy board, and the treasurer, while very important, the CPA does the audits. The staff that does this is the red meat and potatoes. I'm trying to think how the board treasurer could fudge the books. To me, the board treasurer is more of a point of communication for the board, not the one that deals with books."
Byrd said she understood Castleberry's objection, but reiterated it would be in King's best interest.
"I want to spend whatever it takes to ensure that we have a firm standing and to make sure we all know where our finances are," Byrd said.
King said he had no preference or concern.
"If you asked me to audit that or have it audited for my sake, it's not a concern of mine," King said. "I don't think we should have an audit because I'm taking over as treasurer."
Hicks repeated that an audit is conducted every year to ensure financial responsibility.
"Whatever happened from the start of this fiscal year and the time Mr. King takes over is going to be part of next year's audit," Hicks said. "That's what we're paying $9,000 a year for."
Buckhalter attempted to continue the discussion before Hicks declared him out of order and the two began attempting to talk over one another. Hicks then pounded his gavel and declared the meeting adjourned even though the board did not vote on the motion to do so. Buckhalter then called Hicks a "rough rider." Board members got up from their seats and left the table.
Board attorney Chris Hemphill said without a quorum remaining, no vote to adjourn could take place and he would have to research how to address the matter for next month's meeting.
"I've never seen that before," Hemphill said.
Board member Nadia Dale was absent from the meeting.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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