Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

June 23, 2014

As chamber scandal expands, plenty of blame to go around

TAHLEQUAH — If the proverbial buck being passed over the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce scandal were a real dollar bill, it would already be worn so thin you could read this newspaper through it.

Long-time area residents would be hard-pressed to remember an event with the potential to tarnish the city’s image and the reputation of some of its leading citizens. The allegations of embezzlement have launched a probe that seems to expand its scope almost daily.

As of Friday, sources close to the investigation were suggesting that over the past year, someone with access to chamber funds may have been frittering away about $10,000 a month at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Catoosa. And that might be just the tip of the iceberg.

The public was stunned by last week’s abrupt resignation of chamber Executive Director David Moore – and the news that subsequently, the OSBI had entered the fray.

The initial shock has given way to feelings of betrayal and outrage. Most people trusted Moore and considered him a mover and shaker, with the best interests of the city’s business community at heart. They’re wondering if he did something wrong, and how that could happen, with more than two dozen people supposedly tasked with oversight, in one form or another.

Police Chief Nate King, perceiving the possible ramifications, called in the OSBI, but in the meantime, dozens, if not hundreds of citizens – among them dues-paying members of the chamber – are demanding answers.

Chamber board members don’t want to talk, and those in the official position to do so have cited the probe as the reason for their reticence. That may or may not be a good excuse. The chamber – and certainly its ancillary body, the Tourism Council, which operates on taxpayer money – is accountable to the public it ostensibly serves. When board members drag their feet on the issue of transparency, they’re only exacerbating a climate of distrust.

Though it may be the wrong course of action, it’s understandable that chamber board members are reluctant to talk. They must rely on the expertise and honesty of people they hire, but perhaps they were not as vigilant as they should have been in minding the store.

Some – especially those who may have been seated because of their gullibility or trusting natures – may not have been fully apprised of their roles. It’s reasonable to wonder how many have read the chamber’s charter or its bylaws, or documents detailing how the city’s hotel-motel tax – one possible source of allegedly misused funds – was to be administered and used. That might also be true of city officials, both past and present.

A couple of city and chamber leaders are pointing the same fingers they were using to grind axes before this scandal broke. They need to remember Tahlequah’s is a “strong council, weak mayor” system. In other words, if the mayor is culpable, so are city councilors, and perhaps other city employees as well.

Before it’s all said and done, there will be plenty of blame to go around, and the intestinal fortitude of folks in the eye of the storm will be judged by their willingness to accept responsibility. But for now, all those even peripherally involved in city and chamber affairs need to start educating themselves on what they’re supposed to be doing, and try to convince the rest of us a calamity like this won’t ever happen again.

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Editorials
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  • With confidence in Congress at 7 percent, time for a new slate

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  • New chamber head needs to be free from scandal’s taint

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