Don’t confuse Natchez Convention Promotion Commissions

Published 12:50 am Monday, July 17, 2017

The taxpayers of Natchez should not blend, mix-up or confuse the composition of three different Natchez Convention Promotion Commissions (NCPCs) beginning in 2012 to the current NCPC, which Mr. Lance Harris now chairs.

The NCPC commissioners, who served from 2014 to April 4, 2016, have been very public and vocal that while they were told by public elected and non-elected officials that they would need to eventually renew the management agreement between the NCPC and the city, they were not told that the term of the management agreement had already expired.

As those commissioners searched for NCPC records and copies of the agreements, they learned from the city’s Office of Tourism Management staff that the NCPC institutional records had been destroyed and disposed of without NCPC authority.  NCPC minutes record that it was around Feb. 9, 2016 that those commissioners first learned that the city clerk’s file with the NCPC contracts had been picked up by the then city attorney only days before.

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It was not until mid-March 2016 that those former NCPC commissioners came into possession of copies of the expired management agreements between the 2006 NCPC and the city and the separate expired contract between the city and the current private management contractor for the public convention center and other public facilities under the NCPC statutory umbrella. In that packet of documents was Walter Brown’s September 2012 memo of legal advice to the 2012-16 mayor and city attorney that the agreements had expired in 2012 and needed to be renewed to avoid audit exceptions.

With confirmation from 2016 NCPC counsel, the former NCPC immediately stopped the transfer of monies from the NCPC to the city and furthered its inquiry into  those expired agreements. It also intensified its inquiry into unauthorized expenditures of public monies by OTM employees.  Within three weeks, when the former NCPC told the mayor that it would not stop its inquiry into possible legal violations, the then-mayor demanded and received the NCPC commissioners’ resignations. The NCPC that resigned on April 4, 2016 informed both the successor interim and the current NCPC, led by Harris of these matters. The NCPC commissioners who resigned on April 4, 2016 never agreed to continue operations with the city without  a proper written agreement in place, nor did it ever endorse continuation of the relationship between the city and the third party private contractor. In short, the statements attributed to Harris and reported in The Natchez Democrat article of July 16, 2016 do noy apply to the former NCPC that resigned en masse on April 4, 2016.  Any decisions made by the successor interim or current NCPC commissioners and public officials serving after April 4, 2016 to “mutually continue operations and management,” and to reinstate transfer of NCPC monies to the city, are their decisions alone. The former NCPC was unanimously opposed to same.

Before any new agreements between the current NCPC and city are confected, the city and the NCPC should have, in-hand, all of the reporting required under the expired contract from the current private manager of the Natchez Convention Center. This required reporting is not spread on the minutes of the City.

There is no evidence on the public records that the city has ever done its job and reviewed the bank accounts of the contractor or ever received the reports required of the current private operator. The private contractor is a fiduciary to the city under the now over five-year expired contracts.

The absence of the audits and performance reporting on revenue and expenses of operating the convention center and other public facilities under the NCPC umbrella, should be a precondition of any evaluation and issuance of an RFP, or any suggestion that the current relationship should continue.
Paul Benoist is a Louisiana attorney based in Natchez.