published Friday, July 15th, 2011

Multicultural director on board that lent money


by Cliff Hightower
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Multiple vacant lots are photographed Wednesday in the 400 block of MLK Blvd., leading up to the former Renewal Barber Shop at 423 MLK Blvd., seen in the background.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Sherrie Gilchrist, executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce, also served on the board of a nonprofit entity that lent the Chamber more than half a million dollars, a Chattanooga Times Free Press review shows.

In 2008, Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution lent $579,000 to the Chamber, which used the money to buy two properties on East M.L. King Boulevard for $507,000, county records show. The combined value of the two properties was assessed at $211,000.

While Gilchrist was the top executive of the Multicultural Chamber, she also was serving on the board of directors for the financial institution when the loan was made, a review of Internal Revenue Service Form 990s shows.

“Certainly there is potential there to question it,” said City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd.

But until Gilchrist’s role in the loan transaction is known for sure, Ladd said she would have to give the executive director the benefit of the doubt.

Gilchrist could not be reached for comment Thursday, nor could Chamber board member John Taylor.

The Chamber has been under fire this week after City Auditor Stan Sewell released a review of the organization that questioned the group’s business practices, financial management, high salaries, large travel expense budgets and expenditures. Among those were the purchase of five pieces of property along M.L. King Boulevard to build a Business Solutions Center thatnever materialized.

David Johnson, president of Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise and president of the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution, did not respond Thursday to requests for copies of minutes from the institution’s 2008 board meetings. Johnson also did not respond to several other requests for information concerning the institution and the loan to the Chamber.

A review of the Form 990s shows the financial institution has a conflict-of-interest policy, but details of the policy were not available Thursday.

One Chattanooga councilman said Thursday he wants the city to conduct a formal audit of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.

Manny Rico said he would talk to city officials about an official investigation. He was shocked when told Gilchrist served on the board that agreed to the loan.

“She was on the board of directors and CEO of the Multicultural Chamber?” he asked. “You can’t do that.”

REVIEW OF PROPERTIES

Hamilton County register of deeds records show three people sold the five properties along M.L. King Boulevard to the Chamber.

Three properties were acquired with $200,000 of a $500,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant. The other two were bought with the $500,000 loan from the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution.

The three parcels bought with the HUD grant once were owned by C.C. Henderson III, who died last year. The two other properties purchased with the loan were owned by Bishop W.C. Hunter, pastor of The World’s Church of the Living God, and Frances A. McWhirter.

McWhirter could not be located. A voicemail message on Hunter’s church phone states the church office is not accepting calls.

Records show the land Hunter owned appraised at $46,600 and was sold for $250,000. McWhirter’s property appraised at $165,200 and also sold for $250,000.

The value of Henderson’s three parcels of land was listed at $78,300. The Chamber bought them for $200,000.

Sewell’s report questions these expenditures, and they are among 18 questions the City Council has asked Chamber officials to answer by Monday. One question in the report pertains to the purchases made with HUD money.

“Current tax appraisal on the land purchased for the [Business Solutions Center] land is $78,000,” Sewell wrote. “What was the justification for paying $200,000 for this land?”

He also questioned the purchases with the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution loan.

“Tax appraisal on the two lots total $211,800,” Sewell wrote. “What was the justification for expending $507,630 to purchase them?”

On Tuesday, Taylor attended the City Council meeting, asking for $75,000 in funding. He was rebuffed by the council.

Chamber officials had said they would attend the Hamilton County Commission meeting Thursday to ask for the same amount of money, but no one from the Chamber showed up Thursday morning.

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harrystatel said...

Chattanooga should establish a "Blue Ribbon" panel to investigate corruption in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Let's see who should be on this honorable panel.

Ron Littlefield--A man of honesty and integrity whose transparency in government is legendary.

City Attorney Mike McMahan--His $15,000.00-a-month secretaries in his law firm can get to the bottom of this.

Missy Crutchfield--There's another candidate for openness in government. Her business acumen is beyond reproach.

Ward Crutchfield--An inspiration for everyone on statesmanship in office.

Manny Rico--The Sargeant Schultz ("I Know Nothing") of the City Council.

Waterhouse Public Relations--Known for Rocky Raccoon and his fantastic results with setting up Facebook for East Ridge government.

Zach Wamp--Another shining star who's promises are as solid as quicksand.

Dan Johnson--Chief of Staff for Littlefield who served as Wamp's campaign treasurer while being paid by Chattanooga taxpayers. No conflict-of-interest there.

Bill Knowles--Never met a relative he couldn't hire as the "best" candidate for the job.

The Public Art Committee--Chattanooga will need at least five new sculptures to commemorate the event.

I'm exhausted just thinking of all the possibilities for the "Corruption Commission." If I left you off this list, please apply at City Hall--bring an ID (extra points if it's yours), letters of reference from Billy Long, Charles Love, and Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution, and application fee (cash only, no checks please).

With such a group it's only a matter of time until corruption is stopped in Chattanooga.

July 15, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.
adolphochs said...

The next shoe: Who received the proceeds of the land purchase?

July 15, 2011 at 8:37 a.m.
chioK_V said...

They should have known after what happened to the originaly funding for the Bessie Smith Hall that blacks would be under a microscope on anything afterwards operated predominantley by them. People haven't forgotten what happened to the original fundings for the Bessie Smith Hall.

July 15, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

"'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 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."

"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.

Regardless of white or black...there's some dirty business bein done and somebody's head needs to be on the block....

July 15, 2011 at 10:04 a.m.
champ1 said...

All of you that think that this is a black versus white issue have got it wrong. Black people own land and pay taxes in Hamilton County as well. This is an anti-establishment assault, cloaked in a racial defense. So called black leaders have been committing crimes in the name of racial solidarity for years, and until the entire racial issue goes away in this country this will not change. I mean, what do you expect when you allow a group to have their own race based Chamber of Commerce?

But in my opinion, this type of thing is getting real old, real fast. If Gilchrist were the CEO of a publicly held Wall Street firm, she'd be on her way to criminal court for "misappropriation" of funds. Why do we not hold our politicians to this same standard? I mean, you don't HAVE to contribute to a 401k, but you DO have to pay taxes. C.H.A. officials pulled the same crap a couple years ago when they misused funds for the Mayfair on Market project. Still, no one went to jail...so this will continue to occur until you start putting these criminals in federal prison were they belong.

July 15, 2011 at 10:38 a.m.

littlefield must have some serious heat under his seat brewing. Why all of a sudden is he after Miss Sherrie? Perhaps to take the focus away from his mis-management of the office (of mayor) since he was elected?

That said, Sherrie is probably in deep do-do. Things don't sound real nice. When ya play, ya gotta pay! And that applies to anyone (when caught).

July 15, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
charle09 said...

I do agree that something seems fishy with these business dealings. It just doesn't add up. Ms. Gilchrist is a "CEO". She should be able to know a good business deal when she sees one. Noone, especially not a well-educated CEO, should pay more than twice what something is worth. This is important when you are dealing with your own personal finances, but even more important when you are dealing with "taxpayers" money. I am a minority myself. It angers me to see the ignorant comments posted insinuating that blacks cannot be trusted to "handle the money". Give me a break. There are well respected minority business men and woman all over this city that handle their business with the utmost integrity. There are articles in TFP all the time dealing with financial corruption and the majority of those perpetrators are not minorities. It does not matter whether you are black or white, everyone should be held to the same standard. I agree that we need to get to the bottom of this issue. As a CEO who has admitted that she was the one who completed the proposal requesting funding, she should have made sure that all of her ducks were in a row before she submitted the request for funding. That's on her. She can't be upset that the board has some serious questions. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here. The taxpayers have a right to question those expenditures. If everything is on the up and up, then you have nothing to worry about. The last thing that we should be hearing now is silence and "no comment". Just clear all of this up so that everyone can move on.

July 15, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.
thedeltajew said...

let people start sueing people for slander and defamation who call them racist and alot less people will use the race card so loosely!

July 15, 2011 at 12:57 p.m.
justme73 said...

The issue here is not with the people who sold the properties, our issue is with Ms. Gilchrist and her accountability. As with any situation, processes and procedures had to be followed in order to make any of these purchases. When these lots were purchased property on MLK was at it's highest value and the real estate market was booming. The people who sold these properties have done nothing wrong. Ms. Gilchrist supposedly bought these properties with the intentions of growing the chamber. So our issue shoud be with Ms. Gilchrist and her ineffective plans. However our need to know has led us astray. Please readers and reporters of the Times Free Press focus on the issue at hand. Its not a black or white issue. The issue is with Ms. Gilchrist and her board, which approved these purchases and allowed her to do nothing once the land was acquired. Focus on the REAL issue.

July 15, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

She "lent" money? Shouldn't that have been "she loaned money"??

The taxpayers are, as usual, on the hook for this. If she hadn't gotten this cushy job she would have SCREAMED RACISM and the NAACP would have brought suit against Chattanooga and it would be spread all over this country that you don't need to come to Chattanooga look for a house/job and to live....IMHO!!

But you're right jack...she had help...BIG TIME!!! She ain't smart enough to do this all by herself...after all She "lent" money...

July 15, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

While this story initially sounds shocking, notice that it's about commercial property values: a key source of Republican politician funding in this area.

To see the massive difference in the assessed value of real estate and the actual selling prices government gets for properties, we can turn to the Hamilton County Assessor's Office itself.

http://www.hamiltontn.gov/RealProperty/SaleInfo.aspx The Hamilton County Assessor's Office provides a report of sold land that their office auctions off every year, through links at that website. Those reports show the actual value of land as they are sold.

Year after year, they sell many parcels whose combined totals come to often below $50K. That is, dozens of parcels will be sold all together for the fraction of the cost of an average home in this area. Excepting two such sales in 2011, one at $65,600 and another at $11K, most were near or below $5000 each. Many pieces of land sell below $2000.

When those previous property owners were taxed, do you think they were told the land was worth $2000?

One parcel, whose minimum bid was listed by the assessor as $1700, went for the $65,600.

Most others were near $2000 and below.

When those properties were assessed for tax, at 2000 block of Broad Street, do we believe it was then only worth $2000? 2000 Broad is right near UHaul, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and some well-built roads.

Considering the difference between the City Council's recent $328,000 website political handout, and the money actually taken in as a result of sales through the Hamilton County Property Assessor's Office, we should not be surprised that there was also a significant difference in the values cited by the Multicultural Chamber of Commerce and the values cited by the City's Auditors.

The City's Auditors work for Mayor Littlefield, who is a career commercial real estate dealer, as have been many of the last few mayors.

While people should expect fairness in government, and transparency in government funding, looking to the Littlefield administration to accurately report the value of a politicized land deal is not likely to yield the observable truth.

The truth is the Assessor's office will say a property is worth $2000 on Broad Street or $1500 on Shallowford Road, when it's obvious that the average person cannot buy land at those prices.

July 15, 2011 at 11:35 p.m.
chet123 said...

Eastridge8.....I AGREE WITH YOU IN PART....BUT BELEIVE ME, YOU DONT SEE NAACP DEFENDING SHERRIE GILCHRIST...SHERRIE GILCHRIST IS NOT POPULAR IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY...HOW SHE GOT TO BE CEO??...GOOD OLE SYSTEMS(BLACKS HAVE THEM TOO)...SOMEBODY WITH POWER PLACED HER IN POSITION....REMEMBER WHAT I SAID RECENTLY....BLACK PEOPLE ARE DIVERSED JUST AS WHITE ARE DIVERSE....CHATTANOOGA HAVE BLACK PEOPLES THATS MULTI-MILLIONAIRES...SOMEONE WITH POWER PLACE AN IMPOTENT SHERRIE GILCHRIST CEO...THIS WHY I HATE NEPOTISM....

THIS IS NOT THE ONLY SCANDLE SHERRIE GILCHRIST HAVE BEEN IN...HOW SHE CONTINUE TO FLY UNDER THE RADAR???? SHERRIE GILCHRIST COULDNT EVEN BE TRUSTED AS A CHURCH TRUSTEE..

DO RESEARCH ON SHERRIE GILCHRIST...THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

EASTRIDGE GO INTO YAHOO LOOK FOR "CHATTANOOGA NEW UNITED CHURCH TO VOTE AGAIN ON OUSTING PASTOR"

THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND....MILLION DOLLARS DISAPPEARED....GUESS WHO WAS THE CHAIRMAN OF TRUSTEE....SHERRIE GILCHRIST

THE LADY CANT EVEN BE TRUSTED IN GOD HOUSE.....ANYONE ELSE WOULD BE IN JAIL....HOW THEY LET THIS LADY TO CONTINUE TO OPERATE ....AMAZING

THIS IS WHY I REJECT IMPOTENT PEOPLE IN LEADERSHIP POSITION

July 16, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.
chet123 said...

StrongTIMESFREEPRESS.COM ..AUGUST 27, 2008....WRITTEN BY YOLANDA PUTMAN FOR MORE DETAIL INFORMANTIO.....ON CHURCH SCANDLE.....THIS WILL BLOW YOUR MIND

July 16, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.
chet123 said...

THANKS TIMES-FREEPRESS FOR ALLOWING HONEST AND TRUTHFUL EXPRESSION....THANK YOU VERY MUCH

July 16, 2011 at 12:01 p.m.
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