Commissioners to develop policy for nonprofits receiving tax dollars

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Commissioners Jim Sides and Jon Barber will work with County Attorney Jay Dees to develop a new policy for tax dollars going to nonprofits.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, appointed Sides and Barber to work on the policy at the board’s Monday night meeting.
Commissioners have spoken out unanimously in support of a new policy after recent clashes with the Rowan Jobs Initiative, a nonprofit organization working to market the county to industrial site consultants.
The county provided $325,000 over four years, slightly more than half of the agency’s total funding.
Jobs Initiative officials have refused to provide copies of minutes and other records, but have said commissioners could look at records individually while under supervision of a Jobs Initiative member.
Commissioners pulled funding after issues arose concerning a possible conflict of interest involving Salisbury marketing firm Miller Davis Studios.
The Jobs Initiative spent $117,000 with Miller Davis, while Mike Miller, the company’s owner, sat on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Jobs Initiative officials say Miller saved the organization money by handling advertising at a lower rate than other agencies would have.
The Jobs Initiative ran afoul of county commissioners in Rowan and Cabarrus and economic development organizations in October 2007 when it launched an attempt to lure Lowe’s Motor Speedway to Rowan County.
In the midst of a dispute between speedway owner Bruton Smith and the city of Concord over a drag strip there, Smith threatened to relocate his entire operation. William “Skip” Wood, chairman of the Jobs Initiative, issued a news release saying Rowan leaders would welcome Smith building a new track in Rowan.
That effort drew a torrent of criticism.
Smith opted to stay in Concord after city and Cabarrus County leaders agreed to an $80 million incentives package.
During Monday’s commissioners meeting, Sides said the proposed new policy should:
– Require nonprofits to comply with state’s Open Meetings Law;
– Require nonprofits to comply with the Public Records Law;
– Include a section to deal with conflicts of interest.
Sides noted that some agencies or organizations the county provides funding to should be excluded. He cited the National Guard as an example.
Chamberlain asked that the committee try to have a policy ready for the board to vote on by its Oct. 7 meeting.
Sides provided commissioners with copies of agreements currently in use by other counties, including Forsyth, Buncombe and Cumberland.
Forsyth requires the recipient of county funds to “supply records, information and verification of expenditures.” The contract also requires the recipient organization to subject itself to all meeting rules that apply to the county.
Buncombe County’s resolution setting guidelines for funding nonprofit agencies says those organizations “must open their books for the division of their organization funded with public funds so citizens of Buncombe County can determine to their satisfaction that transferred tax dollars are spent in the public interest with proper fiduciary responsibility.”
Buncombe’s policy requires a performance contract for nonprofits. Contracts are renewed only if the performance criteria have been achieved. The Buncombe policy also prohibits commissioners from serving on the board of, or as a volunteer for, any organization seeking money from the county.