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Springfield alderman files motion against local chamber

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Springfield Alderman Clay Sneed/FILE PHOTO

Springfield Alderman Clay Sneed has filed a civil action in the general sessions court of Robertson County in order to obtain financial records from the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce.

The civil summons was filed against the chamber on Thursday, July 6, 2017, for what Sneed describes as "Refusal to provide the 'books and accounts' as prescribed (are) 'available to the membership' per the Chamber of Commerce By-Laws, article 8, section 6 for the reason it is the possession of the accountant."

In the by-laws of the chamber, the noted section reads:

SECTION 6. The Executive Committee shall cause to be reviewed annually the books and accounts of the Chamber at the close of business for the fiscal year, and report its findings to the Board of Directors and make the same available to the membership. All recommendations for expenditures outside the budget shall be submitted to the Executive Committee whose recommendations shall be submitted to the Board.

The document submitted to the court did not specify the information Sneed had requested.

The Robertson County Chamber of Commerce had an overall income of $462,705 in Fiscal Year 2016-17, according to its annual unaudited financial statement. Expenditures were reported at $459,730.

The chamber receives $16,000 annually from the City of Springfield.

At the Tuesday, June 20 meeting of the Springfield Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Sneed moved to defund the chamber during the second reading to finalize the city budget. His motion died for the lack of a second motion.

In response to last week's action, Sneed said, "I hate that it had to come to this, but the members and taxpayers will know exactly how their money is being used and I hope it's a lesson to other agencies and organizations who think they don't have to answer to the public or their dues paying members."

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said chambers of commerce are generally not subject to public records laws.

The Tennessee Public Records Act deals with records of government entities and records of non-government entities that are acting as a functional equivalent of government, according to Fisher.

"They do not operate on taxpayer money and they aren't performing a government function," Fisher said. "They are a business trade association."

Most non-profits that may receive a small grant, proportionately small to their budget, would not be subject to the open records act, according to Fisher.

"Chambers usually raise their money through memberships and other fundraising efforts," Fisher said. "Their operation is not usually based solely on the money from the government."

According to the document provided by the Robertson County General Sessions Court, the chamber of commerce is to appear before the court on Thursday, Aug. 10 to answer the civil action.

"The Chamber's Form 990 is published online and an annual financial report has always been available to our members and is regularly presented at our annual meeting," said Margot Fosnes, President & Chief Economic Development Officer for the Robertson County Chamber of Commerce. "Our fiscal 2017 (year ended March 31) report and 990 are not yet complete and will be filed by August 15 as required by the IRS. Unfortunately, as we are now involved in litigation regarding these matters, we are unable to comment further."

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