Minority Chamber to Council: it's character, not money - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Minority Chamber to Council: It's character, not money

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - With barely an hour to spare, the Tennessee Multi-Cultural Chamber of Commerce has delivered answers, in writing, to the Chattanooga City Council on how it spends and borrows money.

But a TMCC Board member and its Director say the issue is character--not how much funding it might stand to lose or regain.

"How do we rebuild the character," Board member John Taylor says. "First of all, who tore it down?"

He doesn't name names, but TMCC has an over-riding message underlying its four-page response to the City Auditor's eighteen questions.

"No misuse or appropriation of funds," he says. She (Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist) doesn't even write a check!"

"We cannot get a check without proper documentation," Gilchrist says.

Taylor and Gilchrist say the TMCC never planned to develop the 400 block of East Martin Luther King Boulevard by itself; rather, it has sought investors. The TMCC hasn't secured the estimated $3.5 million necessary to turn artist renderings into reality.

TMCC spend more than $700,000 in HUD grants and locally borrowed money to buy five parcels. Gilchrist's written response indicates the prices paid were 'market rates', though they're more than twice the parcels' taxed values.

TMCC has missed at least two interest-only payments, and covered none of the principal.

"The city cut our funding by 50 percent two or three years ago," Gilchrist says. "They knew the funding source was cut off."

"They,' meaning Chattanooga's Community Development Financial Institution's Fund. The Fund's overseeing agency, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, is considering foreclosure, according to CNE's President David Johnson.

Gilchrist says TMCC's Board knew about travel expenses: averaging $20-25,000 yearly for six years. Some costs involved her role with the National Black Chamber of Commerce, for which she served as Chairman last year. All, she says, involved promoting work for minority-owned businesses.

"We used absolutely no city or county money for travel," she tells Eyewitness News.

The TMC plans to take much the same message to the Hamilton County Commission It's not clear what further opportunities it may have to persuade either to restore funding.

City Council has set aside $75,000 to promote the 'mission' of the Multi-Cultural Chamber. That does not mean that the TMCC will receive that money, Council members assert.

Some members will be tough-sells.

"Things that have come out. they're wasting their time and our time, Council member Manny Rico says.

"Forget the money," Taylor says.We are here first of all to say character means more than anything."

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