Chamber finances still in question

Parler: There Was No Audit, Just a Review of Financial Statements

BLYTHEWOOD – Former Blythewood Town Councilman Tom Utroska picked a scab at the Council retreat on Saturday when he suggested Council has never resolved its questionable financial relationship with the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce.

“I continue to harp on the Town’s fiduciary responsibility regarding the GBAC,” Utroska said. “My concern about the Octoberfest is that you are giving them [Chamber] $14,000, and they are going to make a $21,000 profit…16-18 months ago we required that the Chamber give [council] an accountable audit of their finances before you would give them any more money. In fact,” Utroska said, “you stopped giving them money for the Visitor Center. According to a former Town Council member, CPA Bob Massa, the Chamber gave you a bunch of numbers but didn’t give you anything to prove those numbers. Before the Town gives the Chamber more money, I’d like to see us have an audit [of the chamber]. I’d like to understand that what they say they’re spending is what’s actually happening.”

For openers, Utroska criticized council for allowing the chamber to spend event advertising money provided by council on two of three newspapers, leaving out The Voice which he said is the one of the three that is a town business.

“Don’t leave out someone that you’re supposed to be representing – a town business,” Utroska added. “The Council has done a good job with the Town’s finances. But I am concerned that you are not fulfilling your fiduciary responsibility [regarding the chamber.] I think you’re setting yourself up to be criticized more in the future.”

Councilman Bryan Franklin defended the chamber saying it is having its books audited by the same auditor the town uses – Love Bailey.

“As soon as that audit is completed, they are going to present it to the board based on the conversation we had before when we found out there were some issues with their internal auditing,” Franklin told Council. “So they have agreed to do an audit with our town auditor.”

“Is there an actual audit that’s been done? That’s been completed on [the chamber’s] last year’s finances?” Mayor J. Michael Ross asked the Town’s Economic Development consultant Ed Parler, who also serves on the Chamber board as a liaison with town council.

“As far as an audit that goes into depth – a management audit – no. It’s just purely on financial statements. We’ve been told that an organization the size of the Chamber really doesn’t need a certified financial audit, that their statements are accurate and are being independently reviewed by [Love Bailey].”

Ross asked chamber board secretary Mark Cruise, seated in the audience, for a copy of that review.

“We submitted a copy of that review with a final report on the A-tax Visitor Center funding at the year end and the numbers matched up,” Cruise said. “We made sure that Mr. Bailey’s review matched up independently with the chamber’s financials and they did.”

Cruise went on to say that the reports are on the chamber’s website. A review of those reports by The Voice, however, revealed that the year-end report submitted to council in June, 2018 for the Visitor Center (and which is not posted on the website) does not match the financial review on the website produced by Love Bailey.

According to a 2018 ruling by the S.C. Supreme Court, Chambers of Commerce in South Carolina are now only required to disclose financial information to the funding government which, in this case, would be the Blythewood Town Council.

Both Parler and Town Hall have been unable to provide The Voice with the Chamber’s monthly financial statements since June, 2018, but Ross said he would be happy to meet with The Voice, Cruise and Parler to discuss the Chamber’s financials.

In response to Utroska’s criticism of council voting unanimously to award the Chamber $14,000 for a fundraiser that is expected to raise $21,000 to benefit the Chamber, Ross explained council’s actions as, perhaps, a rushed decision.

“We got that 48 hours before our meeting,” Ross said. “We sat up here looking at that for the first time and they needed approval for some of the vendors, performers, etc. and I think we rushed through that. But it’s [the event] not until 2019-20 budget approval, so we may have to revisit that.

“For an organization to have a $21,000 profit, that’s great, but maybe they don’t need the money,” Ross said.

“I wish the Chamber had gotten inside the true town center district, the businesses in town that should be the real nucleus of support,” Ross said. “I see new members being the United Way of the Midlands. But I still charge the Chamber to somehow be a voice for businesses in Blythewood…to reach out to the mom and pop businesses that really do make up Blythewood.”