published Thursday, July 28th, 2011

HUD questions Tennessee Multicultural Chamber


by Cliff Hightower
This building at 353 Chestnut St. houses the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce in Suite 200.
This building at 353 Chestnut St. houses the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce in Suite 200.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
  • photo
    Sherrie Gilchrist, executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce speaks to the media after a Chattanooga City Council meeting Tuesday.
    Photo by Alex Washburn.
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THE STORY SO FAR

The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce faces an investigation by the FBI and an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about the use of federal loans and grants to buy property and build a Business Solutions Center that never materialized.

The inquiries were spurred after a Times Free Press investigation showed inconsistencies with budget requests turned into Chattanooga and Hamilton County. A later review by City Auditor Stan Sewell showed possible financial mismanagement, questionable land deals and exorbitant salaries and travel expenses

Asked outside the City Council on Tuesday whether the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce has answered questions from HUD, the Chamber’s board president was casual.

John Taylor said U.S. Housing and Urban Development officials asked nearly the same questions that the city and county have asked in recent weeks about the Chamber’s finances.

“They were the same questions as the city audit,” Taylor said, referring to City Auditor Stan Sewell’s review of the Chamber, which brought up problems with financial management, salaries and travel expenses.

But a HUD spokeswoman said the agency is asking the Chamber to prove how it spent every penny of a $545,000 grant and account in writing for any money that hasn’t been spent.

In an email, HUD spokeswoman Gloria Shanahan said the agency wants the following:

* Complete source documentation for the expenditure of grant funds for each line item of the approved project budget for a Business Solutions Center to be built on M.L. King Boulevard

* A copy of documents associated with the acquisition of three properties on M.L. King for the center

* A narrative report comparing actual accomplishments to the objectives indicated in the approved application and project budget

* A current status update and schedule for project completion.

Shanahan said the Chamber has 15 days to respond.

The Multicultural Chamber, whose stated goal is to spur minority business development, is facing inquiries from the FBI and HUD concerning the $545,000 HUD grant and a $579,000 loan from the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution.

The Chamber received two HUD grants in 2005 and 2006, and Chamber officials have said they spent $200,000 to buy property along M.L. King Boulevard for a business center that would also house the chamber. They also spent $106,400 for planning, management and administration for the project, Chamber officials said.

But when asked last week what happened to the balance of $238,400, Taylor did not offer an explanation.

“The money is where the money is,” he said.

The FBI last week asked officials with the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution about the loan. The Chamber is behind in its loan payments and could face foreclosure on two M.L. King properties purchased with the money.

Chamber Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist also attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, where the council voted to appropriate $75,000 to a yet-to-be-named entity that could carry out the Chamber’s mission of minority business development.

Gilchrist left the building quickly after the vote and would not answer questions when a reporter saw her in the hall.

On Tuesday, she sent out an email blast asking Chamber supporters for money. Chattanooga and Hamilton County, which each gave the Chamber $75,000 last year, zeroed out their allocations in the fiscal year that began July 1.

“We are aggressively trying to raise monies to continue the operations of the organization,” she wrote. “As you may have read, we have not received any funding from the City Council or County Commission. Therefore, we in [sic] the fundraising mode.”

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champ1 said...

An "e-mail blast" huh?....Hah! I don't think anyone will be touching this entity with a 20 foot pool. They are being investigated by everybody and their mama, but good ole Sherry can only come out from hiding under her desk long enough to ask more people for money. I guess she really is as dumb as she looks.

July 28, 2011 at 12:17 a.m.
joetheplumber said...

All of this is BS. Shut it down, turn the lights off close the door and write it off as another mistake made by our elected officials. Stop wasting time and money on this "Multicultural Mistake". Let's learn and move on. It is obvious that with a response of “The money is where the money is” there is a stall or cover up going on. The "Multicultural" leaders have failed time and time again and this is just more of the same.

July 28, 2011 at 1:14 a.m.
harrystatel said...

“The money is where the money is,” he said. John Taylor, president of The Multicultural Chamber of Commerce (Theft).

Such brilliance! It's easy to see why little Johnny is the president.

Now little Johnny, pull out your pockets so Hud can check to be sure nothing "accidentally" fell in there while you were working as president.

"we in [sic] the fundraising mode.” Elequently written, Sherrie Gilchrist. Thanks to you for conducting business so honorably. A great role model for others.

But HUD be in the investigative mode, Sherrie. I know you'll cooperate fully and make all TMCC documents and transactions public, won't you Sherrie?

How do you look in an orange jumpsuit? Best be lawyering up, Sherrie. Or flipping on your homies to reduce your stay at Club Fed.

Do you think your homies want you talking to the Feds? It's big, Sherrie, real big. You're in the trick box and your "friends" know it. Who do you trust now, Sherrie? You know too much.

Then again, since you're innocent, I bet you're sleeping just fine, not looking over your shoulder, or checking your car for "wires". Notice any clicking on your phone, Sherrie? Any hang-ups? People following you?

It's probably just the Feds, Sherrie. I wouldn't worry about it. You've done nothing wrong.

July 28, 2011 at 6:44 a.m.
Citizen49 said...

John Taylor - you said the money is where the money is - SHOW US THE MONEY!

John Taylor - you said all the auditor's questions would be answered, they were not - SHOW US THE TRUTH!

John Taylor - Rather than being a good steward in support of minorities you tried everything to divert attention from the questions and the mismanagement of funds (maybe theft too?) - SHOW US THAT YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE

July 28, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

I cant help but read every article i can find on this issue. Just another government sponsored program to keep us divided. Even if the money was spent appropriatley or not(im leaning toward not)its still divides our local community, business community on up to the national level. If the regular Chamber was not equal then it seems that something would have been done with that a long time ago but i cannot find anything about that other than the multicultural chamber implying it. I know that the money wasnt applied to the website thats for sure. Even thought the chamber says its multicultural the site leans more toward the african american business stated in its mission. I think the next time i go out to eat and the waitress ask for my money im going to refer her to John Taylor! If there is illegal activity involved what a slap in the face to the "multiculture" of chattanooga!

July 28, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

This whole mess has turned into a circus!

July 31, 2011 at 3:54 p.m.
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