18 Questions: City Council awaits minority Chamber's explanation of spending
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Tennessee's Multi-cultural Chamber of Commerce has promised to provide Chattanooga City Council with answers Tuesday, after a review of expenses raised 18 questions regarding spending and accounting practices.
But District 4's Jack Benson (District 4) concedes that he's sure of even less now, than when he first saw the Auditor's review last week.
"Well, we're certainly not feeling better," he says. "It's very gloomy right now."
His concern focus on why the Tennessee Multi-Cultural Chamber of Commerce (TMCC) spent more than $700,000 in local loans and federal grants for five properties in the 400 block of East Martin Luther King Boulevard, tax valued at well less than half that.
"We did not do a long-term investigation,"City Auditor Stan Sewell says. "We did not conduct a complete audit. That could have taken two or three months."
Instead, Sewell and his investigators have reviewed only raw numbers, in tax documents and TMCC's own audits. Those numbers indicate that TMCC's two employees have averaged $20,000 in travel expenses each year for the past six years.
"Doesn't mean it's wrong,"Sewell says. "Doesn't mean there's not a valid reason for it."
"It seems to me very much out of line," Benson counters.
TMCC started buying property for its proposed Business Center in 2006. Records show it finished that fiscal year $224,247 ahead of expenses.
Three fiscal years later, its deficit was $59,621.
"Administrative costs don't look right in regards to the outcome of that cost," Benson says.
Leaders of the National Black Chamber of Commerce would disagree. Gilchrist served as NBCC's chairman for 2010. In announcing her appointment, CEO Harry Alford repeated TMCC's claims that black-owned businesses have been awarded more than $233 million in contracts thanks to TMCC's help the past six years.
"She didn't receive one dime as chairman," Alford tells Eyewitness News via email. "She served eloquently, and was worth a million dollars."
If so, Benson wonders, how did TMCC get several months behind in interest payments on a $579,000 loan from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund? The loan paid for two of the MLK properties, which TMCC has yet to develop.
"They (Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises) do need to consider foreclosure," Benson says. "And put the money back in the operation if they sell that land."