Serious questions on Multicultural Chamber

Serious questions on Multicultural Chamber

July 30th, 2011 in Opinion Free Press

It is troubling whenever there is any suspicion of misuse or mismanagement of money, but the concern is even greater when part of that money comes from taxpayers.

Difficult questions have been raised about city, county and federal funds that have been provided over the years to the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce.

The Multicultural Chamber -- which is not affiliated with the more familiar Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce -- came under local scrutiny when the Times Free Press found that the Multicultural Chamber was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on its office and to pay its employees, but far less on programs to advance its goal of helping develop minority businesses. There were also apparent discrepancies and omissions in the Multicultural Chamber's budget requests.

Hamilton County and the city of Chattanooga appropriately have declined to provide new funding to the Multicultural Chamber while those serious questions linger.

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened its own inquiry into funding that it has provided to the Multicultural Chamber.

In particular, the federal agency wants the local organization to account for how it has spent a $545,000 federal grant, or to account for any portion of the grant that has not yet been spent. The money was supposed to go toward a "Business Solutions Center" on M.L. King Boulevard, but the facility has not been built. HUD wants to find out the status of that project and when it is expected to be completed.

Also being probed -- by the FBI -- is a nearly $580,000 loan from the Chattanooga Community Development Financial Institution to the Multicultural Chamber. The chamber bought two properties on M.L. King with the loan and is behind on the payments. In addition, far more was spent to buy the properties than what they were apparently worth, according to a review by the city.

Responses by officials with the Multicultural Chamber to questions about the use of the grant and loan have not cleared things up.

For the sake of all involved -- especially the taxpayers -- we hope those issues and other matters surrounding the Multicultural Chamber can be resolved in a way that shows all government funding has been used properly. Meanwhile, Hamilton County, the city of Chattanooga and the federal government are right to scrutinize that funding.