Dear Mayor Grennell and Alderpersons:
Pretty soon, we will
be coming up on 10 years’ operation of the taxpayer-owned Natchez Convention Center by the third party contractor.
From my review of the Minute Books of the City and the Finance Committee minutes, I can find no audits of the convention center, no performance reporting, no financial numbers or details, no review of possible unlawful tying arrangements,
no review of contract compliance, no review of public bid law compliance, no review of preferences to local vendors, no reports on or for NCC requests for deviation from contract terms, no review of private contract operator’s bank records.
In short, for 10 years, there has been no apparent oversight by the City of Natchez of NCC operations, either during the initial
five year contract, nor after that contract expired when the NCPC contract expired and resumed its control over the facility under the state legislation.
is a list of the NatchezConvention Center contract clauses that the City has failed to address, based on its minute books:
1) Proof of preference given to local vendors, Art. 3, Section 3.3;
2) Annual approved financial plans, Sections 3.3.1 and 3.3.4;
3) Rental forms approved by City, Section 3.3.2;
4) Proof of caterers approved by City, Section 3.3.5;
5) Accounting for tickets and ticket revenues, Section 3.3.11;
6) Licenses and permits, Section
7) Bank records of New Orleans Hotel Consultants, LLC, Section 3.3.14;
Proof of adherence to City property inventory controls, Section 3.3.18;
9) Business plans - required annual updates. I note that the now expired contract says, these plans
are to "serve as a management blueprint to monitor Consultant's performance", Section 3.6;
10) Proof of City authority for leased space in convention center, Section 3.9;
11) Annual business and financial projections with projected revenues and expenses, Section 4.1;
True and correct Financial Statements, with any detail requested by city auditor, Section 4.3;
13) Variable Operations Fee, Section 5.2;
14) Accounting Records and City Access, Section 8.4. I note that while there is a 3 year limit on these records set forth in the expired contract, the expired contract also declares, in Article 1, that the consultant,
New Orleans Hotel Consultants, LLC, is a fiduciary to the City, the highest legal standard under general law, which prohibits any self-dealing, and required all things to be done for the benefit of the City.
15) Operating Expenses are defined in Exhibit "C" – no reports found.
The City minute books do contain what I classify as “Blue
Sky” reports, usually delivered by Walter Tipton, that talk about who has come, who is coming, and “projections” of expenditures and tax collections based not on results but formulas supplied by state agencies. It is noteworthy that many
if not most of the conventions are MS public bodies that do not, as far as I can tell, pay the taxes that we need to fund City operations. It appears that Natchez continues to enjoy being a host, and the life of the
party, but with no benefit to the City or its taxpayers.
Former long term city attorney Walter Brown stated (I am here paraphrasing) at the council meeting in July
that “we (City) tried to run the convention center ourselves, and could not do it”. Thus was born the privatization of management of the NCC. I do not oppose privatization of functions that the City cannot perform, and in fact, I encourage the
City to contract with the YMCA to run all recreation and parks activities and get completely out of any management of any public property other than those who house actually required city operations.
Like the North Fire Station, Duncan Park/Auburn, Splash Pad, and countless other City-owned properties, the City just does not seem able to manage City-owned property, including the NCC, and the other properties under the NCPC umbrella.
However, in this particular case, the City of Natchez has delegated operations to a third party without a written agreement in place, and does not appear, from its own
records, to have even tried to demand the required reports under the expired contract in order to put itself into a position to even evaluate the performance of the third party contractor.
The current Administration has had over a year to gather the information set out above and has not done so to date, based on its own records. It is currently negotiating with a separate governmental entity, the Natchez Convention Promotion
Commission (NCPC), which seeks to take over the hiring and firing of personnel and manage the public properties at issue, but I cannot see any progress by the City in the meantime evaluating the performance of the current contractor, since the City has not
done what it obligated itself to do under the expired contracts, as outlined above.
When will the City get into the books of the third party contractor and
taxpayers be given a status report on NatchezC onvention Center operations for the past ten years?
Paul Benoist, Natchez