News Brief —-
In a well-attended Tuesday workshop, with print media outlets present and video cameras rolling, the County Commissioners examined questions about how a group was handed a BRAC bus tour that raised money for a political campaign. Commissioner Hodge opened by saying we’re here “to put everything on the table as a matter of transparency” about questions centering around Economic Development’s connection with this event.
This is the first time a statement has been made as nearly four weeks went by and questions grew more tangled, while the matter escalated in county government. Concerns grew more confused after the county said it had no connections with tours and said there were no contacts for additional information at the federal or state level to help sort it out.
In a prepared statement read by the director of economic development, Vernon Thompson, he said when it was clear the chamber couldn’t handle the tour Erika, the BRAC marketing coordinator, approached him. She’d have to find a volunteer so she talked to Joyce Bowlsbey, he continued. That ended the director’s involvement, as well as the involvement of Economic Development. “We were never in a position to pick and choose,” the director added.
From the Firends of Charter perspective, Joyce Bowlsbey added: “Friends of charter was never an issue or a point of discussion. . . . I chose Friends of Charter to be the recipient” of the profits the tour made.
After questions ebbed and flowed about literature saying Economic Development was the contact point, how much county employee support was involved and whether the Friends were a political group, President Lockhart started wrapping things up. “Senator how do we fix it. It’s already done, do you want Friends of Charter to give the money back. I think we want to fix the problem.”
Senator Pipkin responded, “The commissioners need to be aware of when orders are given by the county. That’s a breakdown in communications, if the department head doesn’t feel it’s important that an employee is out there spending resources. As for whether the money should come back that’s a legal question. Other people will decide whether that happens. It is more than a causal gee shucks we weren’t involved. How can someone say we’re not in the tour business, yet the web site says you’re in the tour business? You can sit there and say you’re not in the business but it looks like you’re in the business and to make a profit out of that and hand it to a political group is worthy of a discussion about the use of county employees and county assets.”
“There’s nothing the commissioners can do today?” President Lockhart responded. “We want you to leave here today happy. What can we do today to make you happy?” To that Senator Ppkin continued: “At the end of the day, why didn’t the commissioners know? Why didn’t the department head? Why did a private citizen have a right to decide? Is this indicative of what charter government is going to be all about?”
Commissioner Hodge added his conclusion: “I think Senator Pipkin’s points are well taken. Things could have been done different. I wish they were done differently.”