|By Jim Gaines, The Daily News, Bowling
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 18, 2006 - More legal action may be brewing in the long-running controversy over financial operations of the Sloan Convention Center.
Former Bowling Green City Commissioner Jim Bullington, appointed in March to carry on any further investigation of the city-owned center's financial dealings over the past 15 years, told city commissioners Tuesday night there may be cause to seek money back from more as-yet-unspecified parties.
And to show he was prepared, he brought in Warren County Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Cohron -- who could prosecute such a case -- if commissioners wanted to plunge into discussion.
"I think we're at that point," Bullington said.
The commission put off that debate until a closed session at its Feb. 7 regular meeting, when they've read through a packet of information, but Bullington did give a brief report of his findings.
Larry Williams, a CPA, examined the convention center's books and found that about $23 million moved through its accounts over 15 years, Bullington said.
"None of that $23 million was monitored by the city," he said.
Many of the center's financial dealings appear to be of primary benefit to John Q. Hammons Corp., Bullington said. Hammons owns the attached Holiday Inn University Plaza and operates the convention center under a management agreement.
Any money that came in exceeding what was needed to operate the center was supposed to be given back to the city, but city officials were always told there was none left over; due to budget shortfalls, city employees went without raises for at least one year during that period, he said.
But since the city assumed direct control of the center almost two years ago -- taking it back from a volunteer board and its longtime secretary, attorney Steve Catron -- more than $2 million in extra money has come back to the city, Bullington said.
"The responsibility for seeing that this $23 million was spent properly was not that of a board made up of citizen volunteers," he said. "Nor was it the responsibility of a part-time city commission. The clear responsibility lay in the hands of the highly paid city employees. Why did they allow this to happen, and deliberately conceal it from the taxpayers and city commission?"
The city sued Catron and two law firms in 2004, seeking reimbursement of many legal bills for which it could find no authorization, and got $260,000 returned, less its own $100,000 legal bill.
Commissioner Brian "Slim" Nash asked Bullington if he was suggesting the city seek reimbursement from former employees and officials, such as former City Manager Chuck Coates, former Chief Financial Officer Kirby Ramsey, and former Mayor Sandy Jones.
Bullington said he was talking about pursuing legal action, but did not want to name names in a public session.
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