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Multifest board hopes to repair image

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Multifest board have met with county and local officials to discuss ways for them to restore confidence in their organization in the wake of an embezzlement scandal.

The organization also plans to discuss the issues with members of the public.   

The board, which came under fire because of an embezzlement scandal that resulted in the resignation of their founder and former president, will hold a public meeting to discuss the annual event at First Baptist Church in downtown Charleston at 7 p.m. Saturday.  

The Rev. Roy Terry, newly appointed Multifest board president, declined to comment on what would be discussed at the meeting when contacted by phone Thursday.

"We want to tell the public our plans for the festival," Terry said. "If anyone wants to know anything about the festival, they need to come to the meeting on Saturday."

Terry also declined to comment on whether board members have been approaching sponsors about funding the event held annually at the Capitol Complex.

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's coffers between 2005 and 2010.

Deborah Starks pleaded guilty in federal court in early January. She resigned from her position as treasurer sometime in 2012, Terry said during a previous interview.

Although Terry would not comment on whether board members have been approaching sponsors, some did meet with Kanawha Commission President Kent Carper Thursday afternoon for about an hour.

"I was impressed with how the meeting went," Carper said.

Board members told Carper they have hired the "well-respected" accounting firm of Gray Griffith & Mays to audit the financial records, he said.

"And the board will have very strict financial controls under the advice of that firm," Carper said.

The organization is also working to bring new members onboard, he said.

"They've added to the board the former ABCA (Alcohol Beverage Control Administration) commissioner and Charleston Police Chief Dallas Staples," Carper said. "And that's someone I have a lot of respect for."

However, Carper said he still was not prepared to recommend that the commission again fund the event.

"I still need to look at a few things," he said. "And I want to talk to my counterparts here at the county and with the city."

However, Carper hopes the organization makes the changes needed to secure funding and continue the event.

"I think it's an important event for the community," he said.

Mayor Danny Jones said he is not yet ready to make a recommendation to council concerning funding.

"I've talked to them (board members)," Jones said. "But I'm waiting to see what they announce and what their layout is."   

The Rev. Matthew Watts, a community activist, previously called for all of the board members to resign to restore public confidence in the event and organization.

However, on Thursday, Watts said his statements might have been "premature."

"I think they're doing the things they need to do to restore confidence in the board," Watts said. "I think they're taking the steps they need to take."

Watts hopes the board can secure sponsorship and continue the festival, which has been held annually for more than two decades.

The event is important to small nonprofit organizations and churches, Watts said.

"It gives small business, the mom and pops, and churches a chance to do some commerce and make some money. I'm really hopeful for them. I really do wish them the best."

However, Watts said the organization must convince its major sponsors, most importantly Charleston and Kanawha County officials, that they have created financial safeguards sufficient to prevent future shenanigans.

"I think they (board members) recognize the transparency that is required to win the trust of Mayor Danny Jones and Commissioner Kent Carper," Watts said. "These are no-nonsense politicians that take public trust very seriously."

Terry would not comment on any of the financial safeguards being enacted to ensure accountability.

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


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