Pensacola Chamber Board vows to restore trust

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.