Members of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau spend a lot of taxpayer money on travel to promote Hamilton County.
Trips have included jaunts to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and even Canada. Yet most of the sincere interest in the area comes from within 150 miles of Chattanooga, County Commissioner Tim Boyd said.
“So why travel to all these other areas of the country in the first place?” Boyd asked.
As reported last week, Boyd said the CVB wastes taxpayer money, and he has a two-inch thick binder full of the CVB’s financial statements to prove it. He said he plans to discuss those with the public next week.
But it’s his word against the CVB, as the media and the public can’t yet see these documents.
Boyd said CVB employees have credit cards with spending limits as much as $100,000.
On top of that, he said, CVB members buy pricey meals, pricey wine, and pricey beer — with taxpayer money. The spending is recorded in a ledger, but the receipts detailing that spending are discarded.
All of this, Boyd said, is a consequence of the CVB lacking policies that effectively show how taxpayer money is spent.
“I have seen bank statements, for instance, showing such and such meal costing upwards of $500. I want to know exactly how many people they were entertaining,” Boyd told Tennessee Watchdog after reviewing what he calls 252 months of travel expenses.
“These are not elected officials spending this money. These CVB people are not accountable to anybody, yet we’re giving them millions of dollars.”
Doak says Boyd’s claims are blatantly false and that Boyd is misreading the financial statements.
Boyd said he met with the CVB’s 30 executive committee members and suggested a series of reforms. He said those committee members rejected him flat.
Doak denies that.
As for another of Boyd’s claims, Doak says the cross-country trips were taken with Chattanooga’s best interests at heart, and plenty of important contacts were made during trade shows and conventions.
“I will tell you that the CVB has an independent third-party audit every single year,” Doak said.
“I will also say the county auditor came in and audited eight years of what we did at the CVB. Our IRS Form 990 is published online every single year. There has been complete oversight.”
Boyd said county officials make the CVB undergo what’s known as a compliance audit, which reviews whether CVB employees are following regulatory guidelines.
These type of audits are different than finance audits and performance audits.
None of the public’s business
Boyd also takes issue with what he describes as an expensive 18th floor penthouse CVB officials use as their main office. He said CVB members spent $300,000 in taxpayer money to refurbish the space without informing county commissioners.
Doak said that’s also not true.
“It’s almost too laughable to respond to. When we were shopping or looking at office space we looked at 19 different places, and this turned out to be the best spot for us. We got it below market rate during a tough time for people in real estate, back in 2010,” Doak said.
“When we’re dealing with clients bringing in millions of dollars of business we do not want to have shoddy offices. There is nothing elaborate. I suppose we could have gotten a couple of double-wide trailers and put them out in the middle of a field somewhere instead.”
Doak said Boyd is out of line to take this matter to the public.
“It’s very inappropriate for Boyd to discuss this, anyway,” Doak said.
“It’s none of his business at all.”
Tennessee Watchdog asked Doak whether it is indeed the public’s business, considering the CVB gets 80 percent of its money from county taxpayers.
“Those documents are not subject to any open records acts,” Doak said.
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