Frye: Chamber will be transparent

Meggs: Town Bailout of Chamber is Unlawful

BLYTHEWOOD – After it was revealed last week that the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce is $22,000 in the red and is currently operating on a $20,000 line of credit, Interim Chamber Director Phil Frye raised eyebrows on Council when he announced the Chamber would no longer request the $17,500 grant from the Town’s general fund that it has requested and received annually for several years.

“You are down $22,000! How can you not ask [for the grant]?” Mayor J. Michael Ross asked. “You’ve overspent, it looks like, and now you don’t need our money? I guess this is the fiscal responsibility we’ve been talking about over, over and over.”

Town Attorney Jim Meggs made it clear where Council should be standing on the issue of funding for the Chamber.

“You’re not a bank,” Meggs said to Ross. “Anything you do with public money has to go to a lawful public purpose. Being a bailout source is not an appropriate public purpose.”

“But they aren’t asking for the $22,000,” Ross said. “That [grant] is the same thing they’ve been asking for every year.”

Meggs shrugged, standing by his advice.

Ed Parler, Council’s liaison with the chamber board, offered his explanation concerning the Chamber’s numbers.

“The $22,000 is the profit and loss from July 1, 2018 to the projected end of the current fiscal year,” Parler said. “It is not the bank balance. [The Chamber] is anticipating taking a hit of $22,000 from the previous year. We are now operating on a line of credit until the membership dues begin coming in. With sound management, we are working toward a balanced budget.”

“That’s a big hallelujah,” Ross said, drawing laughter from the audience.

“The Chamber board voted unanimously against coming to Council for a bailout,” Parler said.

“My hat’s off to you,” Ross said. “I think you’ll get the confidence of the community back that you have somewhat lost. It’s a great step forward.”

Councilman Eddie Baughman thanked Frye for providing the Town with the financials.

“Mike and I have talked. It is what it is and it showed what it showed,” Baughman said. “I appreciate you tightening the boot straps. It shows a lot of character.”

“The good thing, Phil, is that if we don’t give you any money, you ain’t gotta tell us anything [about your finances],” Ross joked in an apparent reference to the requests The Voice has made for the Chamber’s financials over the past two years.

Frye said the Chamber did, however, want to request that Council continue to purchase a $2,500 premiere membership with the Chamber, an amount that is in the Town’s proposed budget.

Frye also asked for $14,000 for the Chamber for a fall fundraiser event. Frye said the Chamber hopes to net $10,000 from the event.

Frye assured Council that the Chamber would be more transparent with its finances in the future.

While praising the Chamber’s promise to be financial responsible in the future, no one on Council asked questions about the Chamber’s vague financials from this fiscal year or lack of financials from prior years. According to CPA Bob Massa, formerly both a Council member and member of the Chamber board, the financial documents submitted last week and last year by the Chamber are vague and do not show with any clarity as to where some of the money that came into the Chamber ended up.

“Those financial records absolutely can’t be followed with any accuracy,” Massa said. “It’s anybody’s guess what was going on. They apparently kept no books on the chamber until someone started asking for them last year. And Mr. Switzer is apparently no longer available to comment on those financials. It’s hard to follow.”