Former Tourism Director Kate Kelly believes members of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce were oblivious to financial irregularities that should have been “obvious.”
Kelly was fired by a unanimous vote of the chamber board members Tuesday morning. Before her release, she had been placed on paid administrative leave.
“It was shocking when I read in the Daily Press that the chamber board said my services were no longer needed,” Kelly said Wednesday. “Reporting that I suspected financial irregularities were occurring was the right thing to do, and my hope was since the board [members] had been made aware, they could then rectify the situation. I certainly never entertained the notion that reporting my suspicions would result in my employment being terminated.”
Kelly says she reported potential problems to then-Executive Director David Moore “multiple times,” but no apparent action was taken. She later turned to Ed Fite, vice president of tourism for the chamber board and a sitting member of the Tourism Council board. Kelly said Fite took her information to board members.
“I would think if the board fulfilled its fiduciary responsibilities, I would not have been put in the position of reporting my suspicions,” Kelly said.
Kelly was hired in November 2004 on a part-time basis, and became a full-time tourism director in July 2005.
The Tourism Council is an advisory committee to the chamber, created by resolution in 2006. In her position, she said, she answered directly to Moore.
Kelly said even notwithstanding the specific irregularities she had pointed out to Moore, it should have been “obvious” to anyone on the chamber staff that there were problems, “whenever the chamber would be notified of utility cut-offs or when [the] Internet connection was down.”
She stressed that Tahlequah Main Street Association should not be dragged into the fray, since it “merely rents space” from the chamber.
According to chamber board members, TMSA has been paying the Chamber of Commerce $250 per month for space in its building.
Board members of the chamber provided no reason for firing Kelly this week, and President Stanley Young said only that her services were “no longer needed.”
In an email to members of the chamber, board members later explained they are beginning the task of searching for a new executive director “right away,” and in the coming weeks will be looking for a new tourism director as well.
Moore resigned earlier this month, and investigators with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Tahlequah Police Department began to probe allegations of misappropriated funds within the chamber. The state auditor and inspector is now involved.