Well, I really stepped in it this time. Darrell Best was right in his Letter to the Editor this week that “facts are pesky things.” What's even more pesky is a lack of facts and an incomplete picture.
I had a mentor once who gave me some excellent advice: "You're going to make mistakes," he said. "We're all human. What matters is what you do after you make mistakes. Do you hide? Ignore them? Or try to figure out what went wrong and try to make it right?"
The Reporter's front-page story last week about Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce's list of events expenses that were presented to the Glen Rose City Council's budget retreat on July 23 did not have all the facts.
The list of expenses, totaling more than $32,000, and a list of payroll expenses for two events coordinators, totaling more than $12,800, were given to the council, which has the ultimate say - yea or nay - on projects being funded by the Glen Rose Economic Development Corp., formerly known as the 4B sales tax board.
The GREDC approved $36,000 to the chamber to hire an events coordinator. Part of the amount was to pay the salary of the person hired. The rest was to go to events expenses.
I tend to get my hackles up when I get the slightest whiff that public funds have been misused. Until Monday, when Best brought me copies of the chamber's bank statements, I had never seen a breakdown of which events expenses were covered by the 4B, whose funds were kept in a separate bank account.
The list presented to the city council did not specify, either. I wrongly made the leap in my mind that events expenses - everything from beer at a St. Patrick's Day golf tournament to bounce houses - were covered with 4B expenses. I knew that the fireworks for the July 4 celebration had been covered by donations, but I assumed that the other expenses were covered by 4B funds, with help from money from other fundraisers.
“Audrey Caylor (former chamber board chair) and I judiciously guarded the 4B monies,” Best told me on Monday.
I am very sorry for making that assumption and apologize to Best, Caylor, other chamber volunteers and staff who worked hard on the St. Patrick's Day and July 4th festivals.
I also said in a response to Best's letter that the chamber had not lived up to its obligations to the GREDC in terms of bringing in baseball tournaments at Beck Field. “Kathryn, you still have this wrong,” Best said in a posting on Facebook. “The contract between the 4B and the Chamber said 'up to eight' baseball tournaments. We had two and when cooler fall weather gets here, the Chamber could of had more, which was my plan. To inform your readers there were none, is simply inaccurate."
I did not say there were none. I said the chamber had not lived up to its contract, certainly not the spirit of it. Representations were made that the chamber would be bringing in a series of baseball tournaments, not just two.
There has been so much confusion and lack of communication between the past chamber staff and leadership - who all resigned, citing various personal reasons - that I'm not surprised members of the council, 4B board and current chamber board and others have expressed confusion, too, about the events expenses. I'm not the only one.
I sat in 4B meetings during which board and council member Sue Oldenburg requested to see events expenses. The GREDC did not receive a detailed listing until last week, when the same list that was presented to the city was presented to the GREDC.
I do not excuse my mistake, but once again, it underscores a need for transparency and greater communication between city boards and private entities it funds. Since I've been covering the GREDC, the Somervell History Foundation is the only entity that has done a great job of sending representatives to speak, giving updates and filing periodic progress reports and final reports on its projects funded by the GREDC.
The new chamber board is determined to move forward on an upward path and it needs the community's support. The office downtown will be staffed by volunteers. If you're interested in helping, contact Rhonda Cagle, acting chamber president, at the Pie Peddlers on the square.
Let's hope the folks working at the chamber will learn from the past and keep a lid on interoffice politics and disagreements. No organization should allow yelling, especially one that is supposed to be focused on business. That is unprofessional behavior, to say the least. If I had been in former events coordinator Tonya Fonseca's position, I would have resigned, too, after being personally attacked and yelled at. Tonya was a professional and did an excellent job. She deserved better than that.
I have never seen so many adults behaving like children while they were trying to run the chamber office this past spring and summer. We all want the same thing in the community - to have a viable chamber of commerce that spends public AND private money wisely.
The new chamber wants to bring together the community and organizations to help business and the local economy. It just wants to do that in a different way from the past. The focus no longer will be on events. Last week the GREDC requested that the chamber return more than $9,000 in unspent events coordinator funds.
Volunteers in our community make things happen. Again, I apologize to those whom I have hurt and look forward to a new chapter in the Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce.