CVB tables proposed ethics policies

May 21, 2013 10:42:52 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors voted unanimously Monday to table two items related to the establishment of a conflict of interest policy and a new policy regarding teleconferencing as a means of attending meetings. 


A copy of the proposed documents was before members during their monthly meeting but board members called for minor revisions to each one and the need to have more time to review the drafts necessitated holding acceptance or denial of the proposed policies until June. 


The documents, authored by CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter, define conflicts of interest, set guidelines for avoiding those that do arise, establish a code of conduct and establish a written board meeting policy. Carpenter said there are no such policies currently in place that members can reference. 


A key item in the conflict of interest policy is an ethics code, which dictates that no elected officials, CVB board members, CVB employees or immediate family members are allowed to request or directly or indirectly receive any public funds received by the CVB. The affected parties would also be disallowed any financial interest in any CVB-funded event or allowed on any documents required to request funding. 


The policy also requires directors to fully disclose any self interest in a transaction or event under consideration by the board in order for procedural control and transparency. 


Also included is a brief stipulation stating that directors are "expected to interact with one another, outside entities or individuals, clients and staff in an ethical manner reflecting fair play, respect and straightforward communication." 


The draft also includes a confidentiality clause, mandating control of information that is proprietary to the bureau. 


The board meeting policy would allow the board to change its regular meeting time or place by noting the change in its minutes, permit board members to participate in meetings via teleconference or video means and make available to the public audio recordings of each meeting and preserve them for three years following the date of the meeting. 


Board member Bernard Buckhalter questioned several items on each proposed policy, including the section entitled 'Purpose,' which requires all directors to review the policy, agree to provisions and sign an annual statement documenting the agreement. That section also states any questions regarding the policy should be directed to the board chair or executive director, which Buckhalter asked for clarity on. 


"If there's a gray area that you may have a conflict with something on, you just bring it to the chair or executive director and say, 'Here's the situation I face. Is this a violation of the code,' and try to get additional input into a situation that you're not 100 percent sure of," director Bart Wise said.  


"Shouldn't the whole board be the one to decide that (and) not the executive director or this chair? We act as a board," Buckhalter said.  


"That's already in our adopted policy," chair Dewitt Hicks said. "If it's a legal question, it's either got to be asked by the executive director or by action of this board." 


"What if time is of essence of you getting an answer or a board member getting an answer? Do you have to wait until the next board meeting or call a special meeting to get that presented?" Wise said. "That's how I read (the language in the policy)." 


"What if the executive director or the chair gives an answer that is (in) conflict with the board?" Buckhalter said.  


"Let's say that this has been adopted and what it's saying is that you've got a question. (If) you're an owner of a restaurant and you've said back here that you don't have any conflicts of interest and all of a sudden that particular restaurant is funding or supplying food for two or three events. You could just call and say, 'Is there now a conflict?'" Carpenter explained. "This is very common in the business world for you to sign an annual statement. Your situation changes from year to year. This particular year you now are the owner or part-owner in something and you could make a phone call to see if you now need to sign a new policy ... and that answer would be given." 


Buckhalter also questioned participation in board meetings through digital media, saying that "is not being here." He also said the policy draft should be amended to require that a member provide five days notice that he or she will be participating through video to be in step with state statute.  


"I don't want the board members to start saying they can't attend the meeting and then try to Skype in at the last minute," Buckhalter said. "We need a five day notice prior to the board meeting. That's all I want." 


In other business, the board heard grant application presentations for the second half of the fiscal year from representatives of the Roast-N-Boast festival, Dinner Theatre, the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Dream 365. Directors will decide on funding those events during the board's June meeting.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.