Lewis County Herald - Serving Hohenwald, Lewis County Tennessee Since 1898

By Becky Jane Newbold
Managing Editor 

City retains attorney when Chamber requests funding from county

 


City of Hohenwald officials called on their attorney last week after hearing of a request the local Chamber of Commerce made to Lewis County government for additional funding.

A letter from the Hohenwald/Lewis County Chamber of Commerce board of directors was sent to Lewis County officials requesting funding to support operations due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected an approximate one-third decrease in membership.

Also outlined was a loss of revenue when the City of Hohenwald ceased funding the organization in 2015.

Lewis County Budget Committee received the letter Monday, July 13, 2020. A similar letter was to be sent to the City. Before it could be sent, the county’s letter was shared with the City.

The letter was composed by the Chamber secretary and formatted by this reporter, who also serves on the Board, with Chamber Board approval.

Attorney Melanie Cagle responded for the City with a phone call and by email requesting the Chamber’s letter be retracted and “further distribution of same hereby cease.”

“Please note that neither the City Mayor or Ms. Ozier have authorized their names to be placed on the bottom of the letter and they should be removed from same.”

City of Hohenwald Mayor Danny McKnight and EC&D Coordinator Helen Ozier did not attend the meeting held July 9, 2020 at The Depot. Their names were included on the letter as they serve as ex-officio members of the board.

Attorney Cagle asserted the letter included ‘false information.’ “My client is evaluating its legal remedies for libel and slander for the publication of same,” Ms. Cagle continued.

Records show extensive absences at board meetings by the city representatives which prompted concern by other members of the board last year. By-law changes were considered to allow the possibility of another representative from the City as a board member, such as a member of the council.

The mayor and EC&D coordinator attended the November 2019 meeting, voicing their desire to continue to be included on the board.

Prior to 2015, the City of Hohenwald was an equal partner in the Chamber, matching Lewis County’s donation of $18,000. Lewis County’s Budget Committee approved a donation of $18,000 from the local Hotel/Motel taxes to the Chamber for the upcoming year.

“The City formerly matched these funds by monthly payments of $1,000 for the director’s salary and the Chamber was reimbursed the day invoiced.  This totaled $12,000.00 of support,” the letter to the county read, in part. 

“The remaining $6,000.00 of support to match the county contribution was made by providing  an office for the chamber and paying overhead expenses to operate an office (telephone, internet, copier, toner, electric, gas, supplies for office, kitchen and restroom, plus any other miscellaneous expenses related to the running of an office.  The city also provided a van for the chamber so the director did not have to utilize their personal vehicle for chamber business.” 

Eligibility in the State of Tennessee’s Three Star Program was also believed to be dependent on a working relationship between the City, County and the Chamber.

In Three Star Program paperwork on file at the Chamber office, the Chamber of Commerce was listed as an active Economic Development Organization for Lewis County. As part of the JECDB, the Chamber helps the community fulfill its requirements as part of the Three Star Program.

Hohenwald and Lewis County have received since 2015, $3.798 million dollars from the state of Tennessee at a lower match due to their Three Star status.

According to Jody Sliger, Three Star Director for the State of Tennessee, a Chamber of Commerce is no longer a specific qualification for the Three Star Program. Regardless, the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1970s by local businessmen and has been an active economic development tool ever since.

HCTec officials worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce to open a satellite office in Hohenwald, creating jobs.

Chamber of Commerce President Blake Farr scheduled a Special Called meeting of the Board for today, Thursday at noon to discuss to potential legal action imposed by the City of Hohenwald.

 

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