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Jones, Carper want to continue funding for Multifest

Leaders of the city of Charleston and Kanawha County Commission say financial controls are in place that make them comfortable in continuing to provide funding for Multifest.  

The future of the late-summer festival was in jeopardy after an embezzlement scandal and the resignation of its founder and former president.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones planned to ask City Council to approve $15,000 for the event during a Monday night meeting.

Jones thinks financial controls instituted by the Multifest board will prevent any further financial problems. He said current board members were not involved in the embezzlement.  

Multifest founder and former board president Stephen Starks resigned from his position in January after his wife pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from the organization between 2005 and 2010.

Deborah Starks pleaded guilty in federal court in early January. She resigned from her position as treasurer sometime in 2012, the Rev. Roy Terry, the newly appointed board president, said during a previous interview.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper also thinks the new financial controls will prevent any future misuse of public funds.

Carper will ask his fellow commissioners to approve $15,000 for Multifest at the next meeting on March 12, he said.

Multifest board members have agreed to meet and even exceed all of the financial controls set forth by the city and county as a prerequisite for securing public funds, Carper said.

"With all of these financial controls, I just don't see how there can be any future problems with public funds," he said.

The organization will have to provide financial records to the county and city that show how all money is being spent, Carper said.

"They'll have to show us where every penny has been spent," he said.  

The board members also have agreed to require that more than one individual on the board sign any checks for expenses, Carper said.

"Not having to have more than one person sign a check is just a recipe for disaster," he said.

The organization also has sought advice from a certified public accountant concerning financial controls, he said.

Carper said the commission would do whatever it takes to ensure that all money is spent in a proper manner.

"If that means we have to pay their vendors directly, then that's what we'll do," he said.  

Carper is also pleased that the board appointed a new member, former Charleston City Police Chief and Alcohol Beverage Control Commissioner Dallas Staples.

"Dallas won't put up with any nonsense," Carper said.

Terry deferred comment to Vicky Keene, executive director. Terry refused to comment on any of the financial controls instituted by the board.

The board has hired accounting firm Gray Griffith & Mays to handle all financial transactions, Keene has said.

"The CPA will handle all of our bills so the board can focus completely on Multifest," Keene said.

There is a requirement that Keene and one other board member sign all checks for Multifest, she said. However, this provision will hardly ever be used because the CPA will pay all bills.

"Since we're not handling the funds, we shouldn't have to handle checks either," she said.

All board members are bonded up to $25,000 through the event's insurance policy, Keene said.

Bonding the officers will guarantee more financial accountability. The process is similar to insurance. If money comes up missing, then the bonding agency or insurance company pays those funds to the agency.

Keene said the organization can afford to pay the CPA and the insurance company for the bonding out of its funds.

Keene is pleased with local officials' funding support, adding it would have been a travesty if Mulifest had not survived.

She said the event promotes diversity and is needed in the state.

"The state doesn't have activities that cover all cultures," she said.

Small vendors, non-profit agencies and churches also depend on the festival because they sell wares at the event.

"They generate a lot of revenue over the weekend," Keene said.

Keene is setting up meetings with other sponsors, including Toyota and Pepsi, she said.    

Both Jones and Carper believe Multifest plays an important role in the community.

"I always enjoy taking my sons to Multifest, especially on Sunday afternoon," Jones said. "I am pleased that the next chapter of this event with new leadership will start this year."

Commissioner Dave Hardy also said he was pleased with the new direction being taken by Multifest.

"The Multifest board is moving in the right direction," Hardy said. "And I believe the event can once again be successful."    

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.     Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon. ;  

 


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