Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 23, 2014

City councilors admit they ‘dropped the ball’ on recent chamber reports

TAHLEQUAH — City officials have funneled tens of thousands of dollars into the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce as part of an agreement dating back to 1987, but elected leaders admit the provisions of the contract have not been met recently.

Voters approved the city’s collection of a hotel-motel tax nearly 27 years ago. The vote created a 4 percent excise tax on rental receipts paid by those who stayed at local hotels or motels.

City coffers collect the entire tax, and each month, 97 percent of the money is set aside for the Chamber of Commerce, with the city keeping 3 percent as an “administrative” fee.

Under the measure, the chamber must use the tax funds “exclusively for tourism development in the city of Tahlequah.” City ordinances also established a contract between the city and chamber, to be extended each fiscal year, so the chamber would act as an “agent of the city,” thus making it a “quasi-governmental agency.”

At the end of its fiscal years, chamber officials are supposed to submit to the city council a detailed account of expenses from the hotel-motel funds. The chamber is also required to make an annual report of its disbursements related to the hotel-motel tax, and to submit its proposed budget for the coming year, after the document is formulated by the chamber’s executive director, president and president-elect.

But sitting members of the city council can’t remember the last time they saw any of those documents from the chamber.

“I do not recall them in the past two or three years, since I’ve been mayor, no,” Mayor Jason Nichols said.

Nichols said the contract between the city and chamber was historically handled “internally,” and was a self-renewing agreement.

“Once those things stopped happening – I don’t know when that happened. I guess it was not picked up by [city] staff,” Nichols said. “I look at the invoices [the chamber] sends to us, and they do provide a pretty detailed set of expenditures, but I don’t remember those [contract requirements] coming to us on the council.”

Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres said former chamber Executive Director David Moore would provide the city with invoices for hotel-motel tax expenditures, but he didn’t do so through the council.

“When I was on the chamber board and the tourism board, those things were submitted to the city,” Spyres said.

She suggested Nichols should be responsible for ensuring the council sees the items required of the chamber. She also believes the city’s yearly audit should have revealed any problems.

“We do not micromanage,” Spyres said. “It really doesn’t come across our desks.”

But Spyres concedes the council “probably dropped the ball as much as the chamber.”

“I don’t think it will happen again,” she said.

Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston also admitted last week that she doesn’t recall seeing “any specific documents regarding the chamber budget and/or expenditures.”

“As city councilors, we unfortunately are not capable of knowing every detail of every department and entity within the city,” said Weston.

“Since we do not physically work at the city offices on a daily basis, we often only know what is presented to us by others. Our goal is to hire reputable and capable individuals whom we trust and who will provide us with all required documentation and information that is relevant to the city.”

Weston said investigations often result in a heightened awareness of policies and regulations.

“Because the Chamber of Commerce has a board who oversees the management of the chamber, I simply presumed that the required documentation was being presented as protocol dictated,” said Weston.

“If we, as councilors, are not provided with the information, we have no way of knowing management practices. However, this is not an excuse, as we, the city’s leaders, are ultimately responsible for the taxpayers’ money.”

Weston promised the city will work with investigators and try to restore trust with the chamber members and citizens of Tahlequah.

“We look forward to closure and resolution soon,” said Weston.

Nichols suggested the council will consider changing its policy, if necessary, to ensure these documents appear in front of the board.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • ts-NSU-Main-1-a.jpg No NSU pool, for now

    NSU experiencing delays in fitness center construction

    Earlier this month, Northeastern State University announced it is experiencing delays in the renovation of its fitness center and pool.
    The facility was officially shuttered Sept. 17, 2012, and at the time, the projected completion date for renovation was this fall.

    July 25, 2014 3 Photos

  • jn-Suspect-1.jpg Officials: Images of suspects may help nab church burglars

    Cherokee County investigators hope surveillance footage captured around the Crescent Valley Baptist Church in Woodall helps lead to the suspects accused of breaking into the complex and setting fire to one building this week.
    According to Undersheriff Jason Chennault, cameras captured footage of two suspects on bicycles early Tuesday morning, July 22.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • svw-movie-night.jpg Local library hosts family movie night

    Nova Foreman and her two daughters were about to leave the Tahlequah Public Library Thursday, when they saw the Family Movie Night flyer.
    The three decided to stay and enjoy a movie they had not yet seen at the free, theater-like event.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • svw-Keys.jpg Grant to fund stepped-up Keys PE program

    Kair Ridenhour’s new office is filled with pedometers.
    Ridenhour officially started his new position as assistant elementary principal at Keys Public Schools on July 1.
    But his other role at the school – that of physical education project coordinator – prompted the influx of pedometers.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • jn cvbc fire.jpg Church catches fire after burglaries

    Authorities are looking for the person accused of breaking into the Crescent Valley Baptist Church two times this week and likely causing a fire that damaged the youth building early Wednesday morning.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • svw Humane photo.tif More volunteers needed to house strays, help with spay-and-neuter

    Furry friends may seem like the perfect addition to round out a family.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marijuana, seeds lead to four arrests

    Four people were arrested on marijuana related charges early Wednesday morning after a traffic stop on South Muskogee Avenue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Sex offender found living in tent at river

    Cherokee County sheriff’s investigators arrested a convicted sex offender this week when they discovered he has been living in a tent along the river.

    July 24, 2014

  • ts-NSU-MAIN.jpg Fledgling RiverHawks arrive

    Over 200 incoming freshmen took part in orientation class at Northeastern State University

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • svw-TCP-jump.jpg Tahlequah Community Playhouse revving up for new season

    Tahlequah Community Playhouse is kicking of its 41st season with a nod to friendship and aging.
    TCP finished auditions for its first play of the season, “The Dixie Swim Club,” on Tuesday.

    July 23, 2014 2 Photos

Poll

Do you believe school administrators and college presidents in Oklahoma are paid too much?

Strongly agree.
Somewhat agree.
Somewhat disagree.
Strongly disagree.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites
Stocks