March 5, 2011 8:42:00 PM
Since I was singled out in the March 4 editorial ("Building with a Shaky Foundation"), I feel I need to set the record straight.
Yes, I am a friend of the Link, but maybe not their best. You can bet your "bottom dollar" if they renege on an agreement, do something illegal or in secret, I''ll call them out just as I have the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Dispatch and others have tried to portray the missteps of the CVB a personal matter between me, the Link, and the CVB. There is nothing further from the truth.
The budget cut the CVB first proposed for the Link exposed the underlying problem of the CVB, which had been festering for a while.
About four years ago, the CVB lobbied for an extension of the two-percent restaurant tax from four to 10 years so they could buy the Varsity Theater and renovate it for an office and auditorium. To get the support of the city and the community in this project, they promised the city $50,000 a year for beautification and the Link 15 percent of the restaurant tax for economic development. The Link and the city''s support were critical in the successful passage of this local and private bill.
Later, the CVB joined with the city and county to share in the match of a Department of Transportation grant for the renovation of the old river bridge. The CVB was reluctant to do this but gave in to public pressure. This match was $135,000 from each entity. The CVB, in their budget process the following year, originally cut the Link allocation from $175,000 to $100,000 per year. The $100,000 was to be split equally between economic development and military affairs. This allocation effectively cut the Link''s economic development fund $135,000, the same as the DOT match.
Ironically, Glen Lautzenhauser, a city appointee to the CVB board was chairman of the military affairs committee. It seems very obvious that the CVB board backed out on their agreement with the Link by cutting their budget. This is unethical.
That''s a little background on why I began to look into the operations of the CVB.
Now to your editorial: You hammered me and the Board of Supervisors with the blame for the delay in the purchase of the new office space for the CVB, which is no longer the Varsity Theater, but a brand new building.
If you had done your homework, you would know that the CVB by law can''t borrow money or enter into a contract to purchase real estate without the Board of Supervisors'' or City Council''s approval. In this case they don''t have either. Also, you stated in your editorial the Board of Supervisors rubber-stamped the down payment of $224,000. We did not!
You would also know if you had investigated and done your due diligence, you would have found that by law we or the CVB cannot pay more than appraised value for property. The appraisal that Nancy Carpenter gave at our board meeting of $600,000 included customized flooring and other amenities. She gave the contract purchase price as $734,881, or $134,881 above the appraised value.
You should know that we can''t approve this purchase without breaking the law or incurring a liability. One would think that with two attorneys serving on the CVB board, they too would know this.
Having said all of that, where do we stand now and what is the solution? The Board of Supervisors has joined with the City Council and the CVB board in asking for an attorney general''s opinion on the best way we can legally handle this special situation. I feel this is the prudent thing to do as it will give us guidance and relieve the Board of Supervisors, City Council, and the CVB board of any liability and, at the same time, give the builder protection.
You criticized the Board of Supervisors for not paying attention to what was going on at the CVB. The CVB ordinance was established in 1984 and most of the present supervisors, council members and even CVB board members were not aware of what the original ordinance said. When it became obvious that some action needed to be taken, your editorial sends us down the river because we began to pay attention.
I think the CVB is a good organization and fulfills a real need in our community. However, I also think The Dispatch has a duty and an obligation just like the Board of Supervisors to make sure the CVB board operates within the law.
Harry S. Sanders
Sanders is president of the Lowndes Board of Supervisors. He represents District 1.