Hizer’s message to Chamber membership

Good Morning,

Before we tell you about the great events lined up for this week, I would like to take a moment to address some of last week’s news coverage regarding questions our auditors raised during our regular annual audit that we brought to the attention of our full Board of Directors on Friday. While I would have liked to have provided you with details about this issue prior to now, it was prudent that I inform our leadership of the auditors’ questions, respond to any questions the Board had, and await their guidance, prior to sending out any mass communication.

Let me first say that neither your dues nor investment dollars are in question, and the financial questions our external auditors raised are at this point limited to records associated with a promotional card program operated by Visit Pensacola, our tourism arm; Escambia County; and the Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach chambers of commerce for the purpose of growing tourism. We believe that the promotional cards were used as intended – to reimburse visitors who stayed in our local hotels – but the records are housed in several locations and do not currently appear to be complete. David Lister of our audit firm, Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund, also noted the that there were no other issues of significance to bring before the Board.

Under Chairman Sansing’s guidance and with advice from our legal counsel, the Board saw fit to expand the current scope of our financial audit to more closely investigate the discrepancies in the records held by us, the County, our fellow chambers and, hopefully, American Express, which issued these cards. We have also taken steps to more tightly secure the remaining cards in our possession, which have been moved to a safe deposit box, and require two people to be present whenever these cards are accessed, regardless of the results of this expanded audit.

As Chairman Sansing said at the beginning of our Board meeting, our community, our County, our Chamber investors, and our members can have full trust and confidence in this Board, made up of individuals selected due to their leadership and their impeccable integrity, to do the right thing and to take appropriate action if needed with regard to all matters that go before them.

We are very sensitive to the timing as it relates to the upcoming tourism season and will make every effort to ensure we continue business as usual during our high season. We have had record-breaking bed-tax numbers recently, due in large part to the efforts of our Tourism Department, which is poised to launch a major advertising campaign over the coming weeks.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as the auditors conduct their investigation; we will be sure to keep you all updated with regard to this issue. I am proud of the good work that our Chamber does for this community and remain optimistic that we will find the answers to the auditor’s questions.

Jim Hizer