published Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Some council members stepping away from Multicultural Chamber


by Cliff Hightower
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  • photo
    Sherrie Gilchrist is the executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

At today's City Council meeting, the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce is expected to answer 18 questions about its spending practices and to provide an audit to the council.

Poll
Should the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce take over the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber?

Uncertainty about the business practices of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce may mean no taxpayer funding from the city regardless of how Chamber officials answer 18 questions from the City Council, some council members said Monday.

“There’s enough of a cloud that I wouldn’t appropriate anything,” said Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd. “I think the 18 questions were the tip of the iceberg.”

The questions were included in a review of the Chamber by City Auditor Stan Sewell that pointed out possible financial mismanagement, questionable land acquisitions and large salaries and travel expenses for employees. The Chamber’s role is to help minority-based businesses within the community and to encourage minority-business growth.

Last week, in the days after the release of the audit, which was triggered by a Times Free Press investigation, the council told Chamber officials to provide answers to the questions — in writing — at today’s council meeting. The Chamber was also asked to provide a current audit of its finances.

Since the release of the review, Multicultural Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist has not returned repeated phone calls. A person in the front area of the Chamber’s 535 Chestnut St. office told a reporter who stopped by that Gilchrist was on a conference call and could not talk. Photos of local black civil rights leaders hang on the walls in the spacious office that the Chamber pays $47,000 a year to rent.

Ladd said she told chamber board members they would not be brought before a committee meeting or the regularly scheduled board meeting to address the council. She said if they do address the council, it would be only if a council member requests them to speak or at the end of the meeting when the public is allowed to address the council.

Council members individually could ask questions of the Chamber, she said, but for the most part, the council already has heard the group’s arguments for getting $75,000 in funding from the city.

“We’ve heard what we need to hear,” she said.

Councilman Peter Murphy said Monday the council could always appropriate the money later if the audit’s questions are answered. The money comes from a special economic development fund and is there if needed, he said.

But the council doesn’t have to give the money directly to the Chamber, Murphy said. It could be appropriated to another entity that could do the same job the Chamber has done in the past, he said.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

The council is expected to vote on the last piece of the 2011-12 fiscal year budget tonight, including funds to local agencies. The money for the Chamber was taken out of the budget weeks ago after questions arose after the organization gave contradictory statements in federal and local financial documents.

Councilman Manny Rico said the answers provided would not change his mind.

“There’s no way I can vote to give them money,” he said. “It’s throwing good money to bad.”

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.

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fairmon said...

The Chattanooga City Council should not be donating to either Chamber of Commerce or any other non-government activity. In fact many government activities go beyond the authority vested in them by the city charter. The city is bordering on socialism by owning a number of for profit businesses that compete with private entities.

I wish enough citizens would try to understand what the council is doing with their tax dollars and insist on, even if necessary for citizens to fund it, an independent audit of city government finances.

A federal grant should not be necessary to staff and train additional police and fire personnel. It is concerning when council members say "we can find the money" by the time we have to pay for the additional personnel without federal assistance. Why not "find" the money now? Is the council preparing for the next bond expiration instead of being surprised and saying we have no option other than pay the renewal cost putting the debit equal to or greater than where it started?

July 19, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.
chet123 said...

I AGREE WITH YOU ON THIS ISSUE....SOMEBODY SHOULD BE GOING TO JAIL.......WHO IS THE BOARD....WHY DID THEY ALLO GILCHRIST TO BLOW TAX PAYER MONEY....

July 19, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.
chet123 said...

I WANT TO SEE AN INTERVEIW WITH SHERRIE GILCHRIST....DONT LET HER RUN AND HIDE....

July 19, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Will Sherrie bring her lawyer? Will tape be rolling? Will Andrea do back flips?

The City Council Circus is back in town with more laughs, giggles, and grins than ever! Who needs Harry Potter when the best fiction is "Honest Chattanooga Government?"

July 19, 2011 at 10:10 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

I agree with all on here up to this point...even chet...good posts all...

Sherrie will never have to answer for any of this...she will be allowed to "resign" and be fined but never pay those fines and she will move on...never to be heard from again until she pulls this stunt on another city...

July 19, 2011 at 10:40 a.m.
fedup350 said...

Maybe when the Feds get done with Sherrie they will start looking into the Littlefield administration.

July 19, 2011 at 4:54 p.m.
fedup350 said...

Whats so funny s that if Littlefield had told the Council he wanted to give money to Gilchrist the City Coucil would be falling all over themselves to funnel her more money and Manny Rico and Pam Ladd would be leading the charge.

July 19, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.
chioK_V said...

The Chamber’s role is to help minority-based businesses within the community and to encourage minority-business growth.

Does anyone know of any minority businesses the multi-chamber actually ever helped? I'm not talking about friends doing favors for friends already in business. But actually going out into some of these struggling inner-city communities and helping individuals to establish a business through small micro loans; helping them to establish a business plan and directing traffic to these small newly established businesses. Providing whatever support needed to help keep the business flourishing. I honestly don't see anything they've done with all that money. The inner-cities and minorities continue to suffer and be destabilized because there's no solid base nor solidarity within the group. Then the ones who claim they are there to help end up exploiting and ripping the poor off. I'm more saddened than angry.

July 19, 2011 at 7:40 p.m.
Echo said...

Is this any surprise ?

Mismanagement of public money? Waste at HUD? This is how our federal government borrows and then spends $160 billion more than it takes in every month.

Racial extortionists large and small offer "insurance policies" to suppress allegations of racist hiring and procurement within corporations. This comes at the expense of philanthropic gifts to groups that have more legitimate needs. Abused women, hungry children, the disabled, and victims of natural and economic disasters don't have the publicity potential that a noisy, wealthy, and well oiled "money for quiet" shakedown machine can offer.

Paying off racial extortionists is not altruistic, it is weak and amoral. Hopefully this lesson will make local corporations work harder to focus philanthropy upon groups who have genuine needs. Put your effort in helping people who need help, not people out to help themselves to corporate cash.

July 19, 2011 at 11:08 p.m.
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