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Tourism Board spending limit rejected
Newman, Ben 2016CMYK.jpg
Ben Newman

Tourism Development Board members will not have financial oversight placed on them at this time.

McMinnville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen rejected an effort to impose a $10,000 spending limit on TDB members without city approval.

Mayor Ben Newman, Vice Mayor Ryle Chastain and Aldermen Steve Harvey, Kate Alsbrook and Rachel Kirby voted against setting a spending limit. 

Aldermen Everett Brock and Mike Neal voted for it.

The decision came after deliberations.

“It’s my opinion as Finance Committee chairman, everybody needs some sort of oversight,” said Brock. “I’m not trying to corral people. I’m not saying this because I don’t approve of something that they’ve done. It’s just ridiculous to not have monetary oversight with everything we do. We hold our department heads to $10,000. We hold our administrator to $10,000.”

He suggested the amount could be higher than $10,000, if that’s the wishes of the board. 

“I agree with Mr. Brock,” said Neal. “I had a downtown business this week approach me wanting to know where their money was at. I think there needs to be another set of eyes looking at it. If there’s any questions, then we can look at it and answer them. I do believe we need some more oversight, particularly over $10,000.” 

The need for oversight was prompted by a recent expenditure made by TDB members, a transfer of $13,333 they made to Warren County Chamber of Commerce with the intent of sponsoring Cumberland Caverns Live with $40,000 divided over three years. That concert venue is outside the corporate boundaries of the city. The Chamber was used as a pass thru because TDB bylaws restrict its tourism efforts to within the corporate boundaries.

Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson has been asked his legal opinion on whether the steps taken by TDB members were illegal. City officials are still awaiting that determination. 

Brock said that legal issue has nothing to do with the need for financial oversight regarding taxpayer money and how it is being spent.

“If it (the state’s opinion) comes back fine, then it’s fine,” said Brock. “If it comes back not fine, then they won’t do it again. Again, I have no problem with what they give to anybody except on an individual basis. I think that it needs to be reviewed by the board, if it’s over $10,000. I can’t imagine anybody saying that they are going to give somebody $100,000 a year and you can do whatever you want with it. It’s taxpayers’ money.”

Harvey disagreed. 

“Their meetings are public, we see their audit and we appoint who is on that board,” said Harvey. “That’s oversight enough, I feel.” 

Financial independence is important for Tourism Development Board members to conduct business, says Newman. 

“I think they need some type of autonomy to make decisions and do the things they see fit. We’ve put people on there that we hope, and I think are, making decisions that are in the best interest of tourism for McMinnville. I think they need to be able to do that. I think they have adequate oversight that they need to be able to do a good job without having to run to the board every time they need to spend $10,000. At this point, I don’t see that it’s necessary.”

Brock replied, “I think Frank (Southard, the city’s Public Works director) does a good job, but we limit him to $10,000. I think Ricky (Morton, the city’s Water and Sewer director) is doing a good job, but we limit him to $10,000.” 

Tourism Development Board was created in 2017 to promote tourism within the city of McMinnville. By its bylaws, seven directors oversee activities. Among those seven, standing members are the mayor and Chamber president. 

TDB meets on the second Monday of each month at 4:30 p.m. Pirtle offered to attend those meetings. If city officials direct him to do so, that cost would be paid by the city of McMinnville.