June 12, 2013 10:24:47 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Columbus Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board member Harvey Myrick confirmed he was relieved of his duties Tuesday by Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith, the two who appointed him in 2011.
Sanders also confirmed the decision, stating it was based on Myrick's affiliation with local annual festival Grilling on the River, which is an event funded by the CVB. Myrick founded the festival in 2006 and was its president until officially handing the reins to Chuck Cook in February. He remains involved with the event as a volunteer, Myrick said.
Myrick was the lone member appointed by Sanders and Smith. The board of supervisors and city council each appoint four of the other eight CVB board members.
Sanders said a meeting was called Tuesday based on a previous meeting called by CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter, board chairman Dewitt Hicks and board attorney Chris Hemphill. Sanders said he and Smith discussed a possible conflict of interest with Myrick before opting to call another meeting in which Myrick would be present.
"(Myrick) insisted there was no conflict of interest, yet he's on the signature of the card for their checking account. His name was mentioned in the advertisements as the contact person and had his name and telephone number," Sanders said. "He was (also) the master of ceremonies, you might say, that put on that function. With those issues, we felt like he was still in conflict and had more to do with Grilling on the River than just being a volunteer. There's no volunteer in the world that has authorization to sign checks."
Sanders said Myrick accused others involved with the CVB of also having conflicts of interest, but he told Myrick those were none of his and Smith's concern because they did not involve members appointed by him and Smith.
Myrick was asked to resign and refused, after which Sanders officially informed him he was removed from the board.
Sanders said the board will operate with eight voting members in the interim while he and Smith discuss possible replacements for Myrick.
Myrick said the timing of their decision was "quite strange" and that the two were aware of his involvement with the festival upon appointing him. At that time, Myrick asked for an opinion from the state attorney general's office on his affiliation with the event. That office stated there was a possible conflict. In March 2012, the AG's response found that the CVB could fund an event staged by a non-profit if a member has personal but no financial interest, citing three sections of Mississippi State Code. It was also suggested that Myrick recuse himself from any board action concerning Grilling on the River, which he said he did.
A registered agent/office statement of change form sent to the Mississippi Secretary of State's office and filed Feb. 26 lists a change from Myrick to Cook as the festival's president. The CVB board voted Feb. 25 to fund the festival. A recent grant report shows the event has received $4,000 of the $8,000 it was awarded by the CVB.
Myrick said he was not given an opportunity to explain himself before he was removed.
"I understood going into this meeting that they were both open minded and (were) going to allow me to rebut what had been brought up at the previous meeting," Myrick said. "Within six minutes, Supervisor Harry Sanders says, 'I've already made my mind up. Will you give us a letter of resignation?' I replied to him, 'No, I will not, because I don't feel I have anything to resign from.' He snapped back at me and said, 'Fine, you're fired.' Within another six minutes, they still did not want to listen to me.
"In March of 2006 before (the festival) ever happened the first year, I did things right by registering with the Secretary of State as a non-profit organization conducting a barbecue contest...There were some issues last winter as far as my involvement," Myrick added. "One of our board members went online (and) saw my name on this document from 2006. I immediately corrected that by paying a fee, writing a new request for (the president's position)to be changed to Chuck Cook. I presented that document at the meeting (Tuesday) and (Sanders and Smith) didn't even hardly look at it."
He admitted to having approved an ad with his contact information listed on one advertisement prior to this year's event, which he said was not intentional and was subsequently changed to include only a website.
"It was not caught that my name and telephone number was there. It ran one week. It was brought to our attention, and we immediately removed that and put a website," Myrick said. "That could be construed as a conflict of interest. I consider it more of an oversight, which can happen any day."
As to whether or not he was "master of ceremonies," Myrick said he had some involvement due to his history in "the barbecue world."
"I've got 28 or 29 years of experience in the barbecue world going back to the Possum Town Pig Fest days," he said. "If they want to cuff my hands to say that I can't put in and give any of my knowledge to a festival that is benefiting the community, yes, I probably don't need to be on that board if they see that as a conflict of interest."
Carpenter said concerns from CVB officials had been considered for several months.
"For several months the potential for there being a conflict did exist and it was the decision of the appointing authorities to remove Mr. Myrick," Carpenter said. "It was not something that was thought of at the spur of the moment."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.