The City of Turlock released several documents on Friday alleging that the Turlock Chamber of Commerce owes more than $241,000 in unallowable expenditures from the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) contracts from 2009 to 2014.
Since 1991, the Chamber of Commerce has managed the CVB, which acts as the tourism-marketing arm of the City of Turlock. In November of last year, the then Turlock City Council approved the 2015 contract, at $249,253, between the Chamber and City for CVB services, despite some councilmembers being concerned with the lack of available statistics.
During the Jan. 27 City Council meeting, Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth announced that Council would review the Chamber’s contract and put the contract out to a competitive bid process, if approved by vote at the Feb. 10 meeting. However, before the Turlock City Council could vote on whether to put marketing and tourism services out to bid, Chamber CEO Sharon Silva sent a letter to the City announcing that they would initiate a 90-day contract termination process.
“After a lot of soul searching, the Chamber Executive Board has made the decision that we would move forward and give the 90-day notice, saving you a lot of trouble to move forward with your RFP for the Convention and Visitors Bureau,” said Silva at the Feb. 10 Council meeting.
Now that the CVB contract is nearing termination — expected to terminate on May 3 — the City of Turlock has alleged that the Chamber spent more than $241,000 of taxpayer dollars on expenditures not allowed by the CVB contract, according to a letter sent by City Attorney Phaedra Norton to Silva on Friday.
“Based on the City’s preliminary determination, it appears that the total amount due to the City from 2009 through 2014, including potentially unallowable expenditures/journal entries/transactions is $241,297.07,” the letter reads.
The CVB is funded by transient occupancy tax (TOT) dollars, which is an additional tax put onto the bill of visitors who stay at Turlock hotels.
According to the audit documents, the CVB funds were spent on such Chamber of Commerce items such as $7,000 for “map to pay for scholarships” in 2009, $10,000 for “various chamber events funding” in 2013, and $3,500 for “chamber to repay CVB” in 2014, where the City alleges the CVB was never reimbursed.
In addition, there is $82,230 in funds intended for city maps and directories that were transferred to the Chamber of Commerce, according to the City.
Funds were also spent on fixed assets, such as a “Panasonic 65” TV System” ($8,456) and a “Printer” ($20,713). The City of Turlock is requiring the Chamber of Commerce return all of the fixed assets to the City within 60 days of the contract’s termination, by July 3, per the released documents. If not returned, the Chamber of Commerce would be required to reimburse the City of the assets.
Silva had no comment on Friday night, following the release of the documents, citing that she has no knowledge of the unallowable expenditures.
“I have no statement, because I have no idea what they are talking about at this point,” said Silva in an email to TurlockCityNews.com.
On Tuesday, at the regularly scheduled Turlock City Council meeting, Administrative Services Director Kellie Jacobs-Hunter will deliver a staff update on the winding down of the contract between the Chamber of Commerce and City of Turlock.
“I continue to encourage the Chamber of Commerce leadership to provide any information that might explain these questionable expenses,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth on Friday night. “To keep the trust in City Hall, I felt it was appropriate to add an update on CVB close-out efforts to Tuesday night’s agenda. As public officials we have the obligation to make sure all tax dollars are spent not only wisely, but also appropriately.”
At the same meeting, City Manager Roy Wasden will deliver a staff update on the CVB request for proposal.
TurlockCityNews.com will continue to look into the allegations by the City of Turlock and update through a continued investigative series.
Turlock City Council will meet 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Yosemite Room of City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.