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Cornish blisters tourism chairman

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Fiscal court seizes funding, bill paying duties after newspaper investigation

By Ben Carlson

The Anderson County Fiscal Court stripped its tourism commission of directly receiving funding and paying its bills last Wednesday following an investigation by The Anderson News into how the agency operates.

Magistrates did so at the urging of County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis, but not until Judge-Executive Steve Cornish delivered a blistering public rebuke of comments made in last week’s newspaper by tourism chairman Dan Stumph.

“I’m not sure if you’ve read The Anderson News, but [Stumph] made some derogatory remarks about me and I take offense that a man running for public office has put the blame on someone else for his problems,” said Cornish, referencing Stumph’s candidacy as a Democrat for magistrate in the 3rd District.

Stumph did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat and have always voted for Democrats, but I wish I lived in the 3rd District so I could vote for [Republican incumbent] Juretta Wells,” Cornish said.

“We don’t need someone on the court like [Stumph].”

Cornish was responding to comments Stumph made last week, including a salvo that the tourism commission’s problems won’t be resolved until Anderson County gets a judge-executive who “gives a damn” about tourism.

A review of several years of tourism’s records showed that it rarely operates with a quorum of its board present, and makes decisions and pays bills without proper votes to do so. The review also uncovered an apparently improper bonus paid to tourism’s director when Stumph signed a $500 check to her just before Christmas in 2008.

Cornish bristled at mention of a bonus.

“That bonus ought to be repaid,” he said. “I don’t care if the person who got it pays it back or Mr. Stumph himself.”

Cornish also bristled at Stumph’s characterization of some of the people appointed to serve on the tourism commission.

“It keeps coming back to the volunteers,” Stumph said. “There are some good ones, but you just can’t depend on them.”

“He criticized some good, upstanding citizens of Anderson County,” Cornish said.

The tourism commission was created by the fiscal court in 2005. Cornish, who took office in 2006, said he accepts responsibility for lax oversight of tourism, adding that it largely has operated that way since he took office and he didn’t realize changes were needed.

Cornish did defend his support for tourism, though, refuting Stumph’s claim that he had attended only one meeting in the past several years.

“That’s simply not true,” Cornish said. “I’m an ex-officio member who can’t even vote [during tourism meetings], so it’s not like me not being there affected having a quorum.”

Cornish said his schedule generally prevents him from attending those meetings, which are now scheduled for 8:30 a.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Best Western.

Cornish said to give his office presence at the meetings, he has asked Deputy Judge-Executive Cheryl Peach to attend in his place.

“She has gone but said she hates going because [the meetings] turn into nothing but a bitch session for Stumph to criticize everyone and God,” Cornish said.

During the meeting, Lewis, the county attorney, told magistrates that the ordinance that created the tourism commission never allowed for it to receive tax funds generated by a room tax at Lawrenceburg’s only hotel, Best Western.

She said that money was supposed to go directly to fiscal court to be used for tourism purposes. She also said that the ordinance requires tourism be independently audited each year, but that apparently hasn’t been done.

By enforcing those stipulations, tourism will now be audited each year as part of the fiscal court’s audit, at no additional cost to the fiscal court, County Treasurer Dudley Shyrock said during the meeting.

Cornish asked Lewis to provide a list of those with current appointments to the commission.

“I want a clean slate,” Cornish said.

Magistrate David Ruggles, who joined the fiscal court after the tourism commission was formed, questioned why the original resolution was never enforced.

“There are so many things going on,” said Lewis, “I can’t always be proactive on these things. When I received the open records request from The Anderson News I wondered why and figured something must be going on.

“I’m being proactive, now, and the fiscal court needs to be proactive today.”

Ruggles then made a motion to have Lewis write a letter to Best Western, directing it to begin sending the money to the fiscal court, and other to state government directing it to send the matching funds it sends to the fiscal court, as well.

Tourism will also have to present its budget each year to the fiscal court.

“This letter makes it implicit that they have to present their budget or they won’t get their bills paid,” Lewis said.

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.