by Max Brantley
Perhaps we exaggerate in the headline. But David Koon sat in on a meeting of the commission reviewing Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau operations and it sure sounds to me like the commissioners have found only some minor disagreemeents with past actions that have been painted by the daily newspaper as major transgressions.
No "smoking gun," says chairman John Plegge.
Something tells me the D-G editorial page has only begun to thunder.
Anyway, David's report is fairly lengthy. Go to the jump for it.
By David Koon
A promised final report from the committee looking into the finances of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau failed to materialize today, with chairman John Plegge saying the members needed more time to address other issues not included in the preliminary report. Plegge set the commission's final meeting for March 30.
Among the things Plegge said aren't addressed in the current report are some of the issues that brought the controversy to a head in the first place, including the purchase of a used car for former LRCVB head Barry Travis, and office space the LRCVB leased in a West Little Rock complex owned by the family of Advertising and Promotions Commissioner Blair Allen.
Even without a final report, Plegge and other commission members thenset about knocking the legs out from under the very issues they said their preliminary report didn't cover.
Of the car purchased for former LRCVB president Barry Travis, Plegge said: "At this point, the only thing I see wrong is that [Travis] used a CVB automobile as a trade in." Plegge said that the LRCVB car was worth $1,500 — an amount Travis later paid back to the LRCVB. Plegge said that that LRCVB paperwork shows that the CVB sent $1,000 checks — the amount of Travis' monthly vehicle allowance — to GMAC until the car was paid down to $15,000, at which time the balance was paid off "with donations from friends," including the Mayor and City Manager. "That's the car deal," Plegge said. "It was just very poorly handled."
On the lease of office space in West Little Rock, Plegge said that the LRCVB had tried
to previously rent space in the strip mall across from Embassy Suites before, due to it being close to the hotel, but was told it was full by a rental agency. When the agency called back later to say a space had opened, the $25,000 a year rental agreement was brought before the A&P commission for approval. Plegge said that during that meeting, the minutes show that Blair Allen left the room. Because of the story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette questioning the apparent conflict of interest, Plegge said the LRCVB canceled the contract. "This had nothing to do with the way the LRCVB operated," Plegge said. "It's unfortunate that it got caught up in some of this stuff that looked improper, bt it was not improper." Commissioner John Steuri pointed out that the rental price was "competitive with other space in the area."
At that, Mayor Mark Stodola rose to point out that it's against the law for LRCVB board members to do business with the city they serve. "For whatever reason," Stodola said, "I don't think commission members were ever informed that there's a state statute that prohibits board members from doing business from the city."
Later, Plegge defended meals recorded on the LRCVB books by saying that if the city is trying to bring in the head of a major company for a convention, fine food will likely be required. "If he wants a $100 bottle of wine, then I suspect you're going to do that," he said. "It's part of the sales process." On the issue of A&P members eating meals at Cajun's Wharf, owned by then-A&P commission chair Mary Beth Ringgold, Paula Casey said that it would be difficult to find volunteer members for the A&P commission if a strict no-business-with-the-city rule is adopted. "I don't think you can say, 'Come down and sit on this commission. And by the way, you can't have any [LRCVB] business.'"
Commission members had a number of suggestions to make the LRCVB better, including having LRCVB employees and A&P commission members file conflict of interest reports, listing the businesses and properties they own. Also suggested was revamped accounting software, an education program for incoming LRCVB employees, more stringent
collection of taxes owed to the LRCVB, and three-year term limits for A&P Commission members.
The meeting wrapped up with a round of "Kill The Messenger," with commissioner John Steuri saying he was "annoyed" by a recent story in the Democrat-Gazette that listed details of a preliminary version of the Plegge Commission report obtained by the paper under the Freedom of Information Act. Steuri said the report that was obtained was incomplete, and that the wrong conclusions could be drawn from it.
"I guess I would just ask the press," Steuri said, "that you would just leave us alone for three days so we can finish our report."
Wrapping up, Plegge said: "There just not any smoking gun. There's some business practices that weren't followed."
(ARK. BLOG to Mr. Steuri: Keep dreaming.)