County Commission meets Monday, will consider alleged breach of contract by Chamber of Commerce

Published 6:10 am Saturday, November 19, 2016

Carter County Commission Logoi

Members of the Carter County Commission will discuss a number of things when the group meets on Monday evening, among them an alleged breach of contract by the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce.
In March of this year, the county signed a contract with the Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of promoting tourism. During the 2015-16 budget cycle, members of the Commission voted to withhold tourism funding from the Chamber of Commerce until a contract was drafted and signed. The funding which the county gives the chamber for tourism promotion comes from the hotel/motel tax collected within the county.
A Private Act requested by the county and approved by the state legislature in 1984 created a hotel/motel tax for all hotels and motels located within Carter County. Under the terms of the Private Act, the county is authorized to retain in the county’s general fund either 2 percent of the tax collections or $12,000, whichever is less. The remainder of the collected revenue is to be earmarked specifically for tourism and the Private Act requires the county to contract with a not-for-profit or civic organization to promote and develop tourism.
Since the Private Act was instituted, the tourism revenue collected through the tax was designated to the Chamber of Commerce. However, during the 2015-16 budget cycle, members of the Commission voted to withhold that funding —approximately $90,000 — from the Chamber. The withholding of tourism funds was linked with the county’s decision to withhold funding from it’s joint economic and community development board, Carter County Tomorrow.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey later informed members of the Commission there was no evidence that a contract between the county and the Chamber for the promotion of tourism existed.
During the February 2016 meeting of the county’s governing body, members of the Commission hashed out and approved a contract, which was signed by Chamber officials on March 1.
Under the terms of the contract, the Chamber is required to file an annual report of its business affairs and transactions, including an annual audit, with the Carter County Clerk’s Office in the month of October of each year.
According to Carter County Finance Director Christa Byrd, the Chamber of Commerce failed to submit a copy of their audit by the end of October.
Under the terms of the contract, in the event of an alleged breach by the Chamber, the county shall provide written notice of the alleged breach to Chamber Director or Chairperson of their board and require the appropriate Chamber representative to appear at the next meeting of the full Commission “to show cause why the contract should not be terminated.” The contract also prescribes that during that meeting, the Commission may select to either immediately terminate the contract or to grant the Chamber additional time to cure the breach.
Byrd told the Elizabethton Star on Friday that when the Chamber did not turn in the audit by the deadline outlined in the contract she contacted County Attorney Josh Hardin to find out what, if any, steps she should take. She said Hardin advised her to draft a letter to the Chamber as outlined in the contract.
“We have a contract and I have to follow it to make sure we are in compliance,” Byrd said.
Byrd said the Chamber notified her on Oct. 31 that the audit for the 2015-16 fiscal year was not complete. She said she asked them to submit a copy of the previous year’s (FY 2014-15) audit until they could get the current audit completed but did not hear anything back regarding that request.
Chamber of Commerce Director Tonya Stevens told the Elizabethton Star she had communicated with the county that the audit was in process but had not been completed yet. She said she received a draft copy of the audit and forwarded that on to Byrd, who confirmed she received it after drafting the letter.
“We did everything we could to get this completed in a timely manner,” Stevens said. “Perhaps, maybe we didn’t realize how long the process would take.”
In other matters, members of the County Commission will consider a proposed amendment to the Animal Shelter’s budget as well as a resolution to allow Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey to apply for Tourism Enhancement Grant Funds from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
The Carter County Commission will meet on Monday, Nov. 21, at 6 p.m. in the main courtroom located on the second floor of the Carter County Courthouse.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox