Pensacola Chamber Board vows to restore trust

March 8, 2013

Chamber chairman Sandy Sansing asked his board to vote for its auditor Saltmarsh, Cleavland & Gund to expand its current audit of chamber finances to include tracking down all the BP AMEX gift cards used by the organization for tourism since 2010. The motion passed unanimously.

Board treasurer Gary Huston, attorney with Clark, Partington, was asked to oversee Saltmarsh audit and work with the chamber’s accounting staff to insure proper accounting controls were in place.

Chamber CEO/President Jim Hizer refused to tell the board how much was missing “because it would be premature to do so until the audit is complete.” He squarely placed the blame on CFO Brian McBroom, who Hizer fired in Jan. 7.

“He was supposed to implement controls and checklists (for the cards),” said Hizer. “He assured me that he was following proper controls. That was not the case.”

The 6,000 AMEX cards were handed out to visitors to the area at the Pensacola Visitor Information Center, Perdido Key Chamber and Pensacola Beach Chamber. The cards were to be logged at the Pensacola Chamber office when they were given to those centers. To receive a gift card, a visitor provided a hotel receipt and photo id. Those were all photocopied with the jacket of the gift card and stored.

According to Hizer, the auditors came to him on Feb. 5 and asked for the log sheets and monthly inventory forms for the cards. Those reports were missing.

Board member Carol Carlan, who served as the chamber treasurer in 2011, was upset that the procedures and checklists that she and her successor, Debbie Calder of Navy Federal Credit Union, were not followed. She made the motion that any remaining gift cards (approximately $30,000 worth) be placed in a safe deposit box with a bank and require two signatures to be released. Carlan agreed to meet with Huston and review the procedures and controls.

Todd LaDouceur, the chamber’s attorney, was asked to see whatever legals necessary to get American Express to give the chamber its records on the cards issued.

Saltmarsh estimated the audit could take 60 days, given the firm’s current workload.

County Administrator George Touart has told the chamber that he is freezing all funding to the chamber, which Hizer said would put the organization in dire financial condition. Hizer said that he would have to stop the tourism advertising, furlough the staff at VIC and halt other services it does for the county.

Touart may relax the freeze based on the board’s actions today.

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  • Joe Montana March 10, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    So if this program started in 2010, who has done the audits since then? Hopefully not Salt Marsh!!
    How many audits has Salt Marsh conducted for the COC since 2010? Thats an easy question that should be readily available.
    To fully gain the public’s trust, The COC should hire an totally independent company with no ties to the situation. Anything less and were going to have the usual “whitewashed by the good old boys story”.
    This should be easy to do in light of the fact that Salt Marsh says it will take 60 days because of there work load. We need an audit, like yesterday, so this doesn’t get swept under the rug or half of Pensacola buying AMEX card to replace the missing or misused ones.

  • joe March 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Mary Mead…hire an attorney. Perhaps Sherri Myers would recommend AllStair McKensie. Good Luck to you.

  • Denise March 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    “…Hizer said that he would have to stop the tourism advertising, furlough the staff at VIC and halt other services it does for the county….”

    The Chamber provides services to the County? WTH ? When did that start and why have they been keeping it a secret ?

  • Henry March 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Another “Mead Screed”…sigh…

    Really, at this point is there anyone out there that really cares about your raving and ranting?

  • Mary Mead March 10, 2013 at 7:34 am

    My opinion is that the Pensacola Chamber Board needs to look at more than Chamber financial matters if they really want to restore trust in the Chamber.

    When Mr. Hizer became the new president of the Chamber of Commerce, I wrote him about our situation as the owners of a small business.

    I told him how, in 1998, my husband and I bought an art gallery/antique shop authorized to hold functions, an historic building listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, built in 1883, at 520 N. Spring Street, downtown. We restored the building following the federal guidelines for restoring historic buildings. We won the best-restored house award (the Joyce Turner Award) in 2000 and were on the North Hill Tour of Historic Homes for that year.

    We went through a thorough process in 2000 with Pensacola City Departments, the North Hill Preservation Association, and the Architectural Review Board for authorization for us to reopen, after our restoration, as an art gallery/antique shop holding functions and were approved since we were grandfathered and, in addition, met and exceeded all the current ordinances regarding parking, zoning, etc. This use, including functions, was approved, again, by the Pensacola City Council in January, 2001.

    We operated successfully and peacefully, with no complaints, for 5 years, from 2000 to 2005.
    We were illegally closed down, without prior notice and without due process, by the Pensacola Police Department, the City Manager and the Director of the Community Development Department on March 19, 2005. They stated we were not authorized to have functions and that we were completely closed down.

    The next day, March 20, 2005, the Pensacola News Journal published an article stating that the City planned to build a 40 million dollar Community Maritime Park at the end of our street, Spring Street. Suddenly, our property became important.

    We have repeatedly asked City Officials, including current City Council members, to obey the law and lift the illegal prohibition instituted against us denying us the use of our building as we were legally authorized – they refused and still do. We were forced to refrain from operating our legally sanctioned business or we would be charged with committing a crime. Mr. Hizer also refused to address the apparent illegal/criminal actions against us. It appears the Chamber is not a friend of small businesses.

    Pensacola is our hometown. Our business is in the City and we built our current residence (we were the contractors) in Escambia County and have lived there for over 34 years. When our neighbors, visitors, relatives or friends mention opening a business in the City, I tell them of our experiences and they quickly change their minds. I don’t want others to experience the financial loss and devastating violation of our rights, to include our Constitutional rights that we have experienced.

    If you members of the Chamber Board are serious about improving economic development here in Pensacola, my situation seems to be a good place to start.

  • Ames March 8, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Maybe the Chamber should raise their membership dues.