CARTHAGE, Mo. — The Carthage Convention and Visitors Bureau is facing an investigation and the executive director and one other employee of the group have been placed on administrative leave after the city discovered the possible misappropriation of funds within the not-for-profit.
Greg Dagnan, Carthage assistant city administrator and police chief, said the city has at least temporarily canceled both the contracts it had with the convention bureau, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol has taken over the investigation into the group.
“I can confirm that there is an investigation,” Dagnan said. “Other than that, I can’t say anything about it. It is very active and very ongoing right now.”
Sam Carpenter, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper, confirmed Wednesday that the patrol had taken over the investigation as of Tuesday. He said it is too early in the investigation to comment.
The convention bureau board president, Anthea Harbin, said the city had notified the group that it had detected a problem, but she couldn’t talk about the details of the investigation either.
Harbin confirmed that director Callie Myers and coordinator Alex Hodkin were both placed on administrative leave soon after the city alerted the group to the problems.
Dagnan said the Carthage City Council had voted to terminate the two contracts it had with the convention bureau.
The council voted Aug. 10, right after Dagnan announced that the Carthage Police Department was investigating the bureau, to terminate a $60,000 communications contract that designated the bureau as the city’s social media and public relations coordinator.
The contract was initially approved on a trial basis in March to last through the end of the city’s fiscal year on June 30. The convention bureau was paid a maximum of $13,400.
In June, the council voted to renew that contract for the 2021-22 fiscal year at a cost of $60,000.
The contract designated Myers as the city’s social media director and paid the convention bureau for help in redesigning the city’s website and social media pages.
“At this point, everything we contracted for them to do we are reabsorbing into city staff,” Dagnan said. “No final decision has been made as to what we will do.”
The second contract was an annual agreement designating the convention bureau as the recipient of $100,000 in city lodging-tax revenue.
Revenue from the tax on the city’s hotels and motels is designated by state law to promote tourism. Dagnan said the city plans to continue using it for that purpose.
Dagnan said city leaders are hoping the investigation can be resolved quickly. He said he hopes the problems can be addressed so the convention bureau can continue as the city’s tourism arm.
“The contract provision really doesn’t allow a temporary suspension. There either is a contract or there isn’t one, so it was terminated,” Dagnan said. “However, I think the actual termination letter did offer a provision, depending on how the investigation turns out, that we can reinstate the contract. Then the city also engaged with KPM Auditing — that’s our auditing firm that we work with yearly. We engaged with them for some extra work to include a forensic audit of the CVB.
“The way it’s set up, the lodging-tax money must go towards tourism. Hopefully, this will be a short-term event, we can make some decisions and make sure that money continues to go toward tourism. If this becomes a long-term event, then we’re going to have to make some arrangements.”
Harbin said her board was cooperating in every way it can with investigators while also examining the books to try to determine on its own what happened.
“We’re just trying to get it resolved,” she said.
Harbin said her group is working toward determining what happened so it can get both contracts with the city restored.
“The lodging tax is the most important one because it’s specifically supposed to be used to support tourism in Carthage, and that’s the whole mission statement of the CVB,” Harbin said.
Dagnan said the city was open to reconsidering both contracts as well, but those were decisions that would be made after the facts in the case are made clear.
“From everything I’ve heard, it’s just a temporary measure to protect everybody, and as soon as we get this resolved, we can revisit the contracts,” Harbin said. “We’re going to keep moving forward and try to get through this investigation and hopefully come out the other side and be able to work with the city again and continue promoting Carthage and helping everyone get through their events.”