Minority Chamber no-shows Commissioners seeking answers to audit
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Whether it be chairs, lamps, conversation-pits, or Steelcase modular cubicles, Chattanooga's Edward Bentley has built his minority-owned business, BENTCO, in office furniture.
He fully believes that the minority-focused Tennessee Multi-Cultural Chamber of Commerce (TMCC), has kept him in business.
"There's been critical times when we needed a job and they would come through," he says. "I think she's put every effort into making this thing work."
'She', Bentley says is the Chamber's Executive Director, Sherrie Gilchrist. A city audit reports she earned $134,490 last year, and $146,484 in 2009, more than twice the salary earned by directors of similar-size non-profit organizations.
The audit was prepared in advance of a City Council vote on whether to appropriate $75,000 for TMCC. Council members, and Hamilton County Commissioners, have cut TMCC funding.
The audit also details the Chamber's travel expenditures. Gilchrist had budgeted $1200 yearly for travel, but expenditures totaled $26,105 in 2008 and $27,132 in 2009, the auditor reported.
Investigators report that TMCC's 'negative equity' (spending exceeding income) has grown so much in five years that "long term debt alone exceeds the value of all of its unrestricted assets."
"Ms. Gilchrist is gonna have to explicitly explain her salary," says Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry.
Gilchrist, and TMCC Board members had been expected to attend the County Commission Thursday morning. They failed to show, and offered no explanations.
Gilchrist also declined to return phone calls to Channel 3 seeking comment. Thursday, our crew visited the Chamber's offices. Gilchrist's executive assistant confirmed her boss was on site, but again declined to answer questions.
The audit raises 18 critical questions.
They're gonna have to first of all, explain property that they bought," says Commission Chairman Henry.
TMCC has spent $500,000 to buy two parcels in the 400 block of East Martin Luther King Boulevard. Together, the parcels had been appraised for $211,000. One lot is vacant.
The Chamber had pledged to build new offices for itself and a multicultural business center; total cost $3.5 million, the audit reports.
TMCC pays $47,000 yearly in rent for its suite of offices at 535 Chestnut Street.
"You don't want to say that anybody's hiding anything, but I think they've got some tall explaining to do," says Commission Chairman Henry.
City Council expects TMCC to issue a formal response next Tuesday. Bentley is confident TMCC's Board will deliver.
"They're very good, ethical people and they'll put together the numbers, says Bentley. "I think there's a great need for that Chamber, and I think she (Gilchrist) has earned her keep."