Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chairman Carson Bows to Demands of Democratic Party Committee and Resigns

Acknowledges switching bank accounts and making 63 separate ATM withdrawals of party money, cannot provide receipts for expenditures but contends money went for party purposes; amount unaccounted-for could be in the thousands.

Posted By on Sat, Feb 21, 2015 at 7:11 PM

UPDATE: Bryan Carson's request for changes in this account and the Flyer's responses.

Carson meets the press after offering resignation. - JB
  • JB
  • Carson meets the press after offering resignation.

After a lengthy closed-door meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s executive committee Saturday afternoon a t the IBEW Union Hall on Madison, SCDP chairman Bryan Carson offered his resignation, to be succeeded for the time being by first vice chair David Cambron.

The meeting was the third meeting called this week to deal with apparent shortages of party money and haphazard or non-existent accounting procedures Like the first two meetings — both held by the 11-member party steering committee, a component of the full executive committee — Saturday’s meeting was closed to the press and public.

Much of the discussion at the nearly two-hour-long executive meeting was a recap of what had been discussed at the two prior steering-committee meetings. Carson was confronted with evidence unearthed by a recent party audit indicating that an indefinite sum — perhaps as much as $8,000 — could not be accounted for.

In the discussion, Carson was repeatedly pressed for an explanation, as he had been at the two previous meetings. At various points, he was brought to acknowledge that he had closed a party banking account and reopened it at another bank under his own name, and that, beginning in September, he had made some 63 different ATM withdrawals of money which Carson contended had been used on behalf of legitimate party expenses but for which he could offer no receipts.

In the course of the meeting, during which members were heard to raise their voices on several occasions, Carson presented Cambron with a money order in the amount of $1600, which the chairman offered in apparent partial restitution for the unaccounted-for sums. (A "donation" is what acting chairman Cambron would later call it in his briefing of the press.)

A parallel issue was the fact that the party had not submitted adequate or timely financial-disclosure records to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance in Nashville, for which the party had been fined three times for a total of $1500. Another charge was that Carson had evaded providing accurate financial reports to the executive committee over a period of time and had even stonewalled efforts to attain those by committee member Jonathan Lewis, who had been designated as acting treasurer by the membership.

Much of the discussion centered on whether Carson should immediately resign or, as he wished to, continue as local party chairman through next month’s caucus-and-convention round which will yield a new executive committee and elect a chairman for the next two years.

The prevailing sentiment of members present was that Carson had to resign the chairmanship forthwith, which — after a lengthy period of resisting the idea — he agreed to. He then left the IBEW building to hold a brief press availability with the doughty handful of media members and the public who had been clustered on the front stoop of the IBEW building, enduring a cold afternoon drizzle as they awaited the outcome of the meeting.

Carson informed the assembled group that he had resigned but declined to make any extended comments other than to insist that he had done nothing wrong, that he had not misappropriated party funds and that any money spent from his withdrawals had been on behalf of the party. He expressed confidence that a full investigation would demonstrate as much.

The chairman’s decision to resign was an apparent concession to what had been persistent pressure from executive committee members. At the Wednesday-night meeting of the 11-member steering committee (the second held by the steering committee during a week of fruitless efforts to come to an exact accounting of party finances), Carson had been presented with an option that, as minutes of that meeting indicated, would “least reflect on the chair.”

That option would have been in the form of a public statement that the steering committee had “voted to transition responsibilities to the First Vice Chair and Treasurer with financial issues under examination [and to] refer all questions to the First Vice Chair [Cambron].”

Carson declined to consider accepting that kind of relative face-saving resolution Wednesday night -- resulting in a motion expressing “No Confidence in the Chair,” which received unanimous approval.

And that was the preamble to Saturday's fateful showdown.

(Top) Non-committee members Carmen Johnson (l) and Julie Byrd examine sign declaring meeting off limits; - (Bottom) Eventually the door was locked for press and public. - JB
  • JB
  • (Top) Non-committee members Carmen Johnson (l) and Julie Byrd examine sign declaring meeting off limits;(Bottom) Eventually the door was locked for press and public.

UPDATE-- Carson’s request for changes to the above account, coupled with our responses:
(SUNDAY, FEB. 21) It should be noted that former chairman Carson — who, it should be said, has been unfailingly polite and has never ceased to make himself available to the media — has requested that we “consider making the following changes” to the above account.

1) Flyer account: “Carson was confronted with evidence unearthed by a recent party audit indicating that an indefinite sum — perhaps as much as $8,000 — could not be accounted for.”

Carson’s response: “[T}he amount first presented was $6,000 that was in question. After being given an opportunity for a self audit, during the second meeting, a presentation was made that showed many discrepancies with that number. That $6,000 number was based on inaccurate and incomplete information in the online reports submitted to the Registry of Election.”

Flyer response: The $8,000 figure was based on confidential information supplied by an attendee at Saturday’s meeting, which — it needs to be repeated — was closed to the press and public. The $8,000 figure corresponds fairly closely to the amount of money received by Carson in ATM withdrawals, and, indeed, according to the minutes of the steering committee meeting of February 15, the first of three closed meetings held with chairman Carson, the actual figure held to be unaccounted after an audit was performed was $6,091.16. The minutes contain this breakdown:

“$8,437.89 is showing for ATM withdrawals from all over the city from Sept 1, 2014 thru Feb. 2 2015.
$3,869.20 Unsubstantiated deposits for same period.
$51`0.00 in overdraft fees for Oct-Nov-Dec-Jan-Feb, plus ATM charges on out-of-network ATMs used.
$1,012.47 in a discrepancy not explained at 9/30.
For a total negative of $6,091.16 unsubstantiated.”

2) Flyer account: “At various points, he [Carson] was brought to acknowledge that he had closed a party banking account and reopened it at another bank under his own name.”

Carson’s response: (“[T]his is not true the bank account was in the name of the Shelby County Democratic Party.”)

Flyer’s response: Again from the February 15 minutes — “It was noted that according to the Chair there is approximately $980 in a new First Tennessee account with Bryan’s name only and his home address. Reginald Milton suggested the Committee recommend closing this account and open another with the First vice Chair and Treasurer’s name on it….This motion was …approved on a voice vote by the Steering Committee.”

Contacted for further information on the point, acting party chair Dave Cambron said that Carson may have been “confused” about the First Tennessee account, that — for whatever it means — he has subsequently seen no evidence suggesting that such an account exists. Cambron said further that Carson had, on his own tack, previously closed one party banking account and opened another at Bank of America, which the steering committee minutes suggest was also closed this past week.

Suffice it to say that there is considerable confusion regarding various bank records and the balances claimed by former chairman Carson (in various reports to either the Democratic steering committee or the party executive committee a whole) and the balances actually existing at various points in time.

These inconsistencies — along with information received by the party about late or inappropriate financial disclosures to the state, coupled with fines levied on the party — were a major reason for the audit performed by the steering committee and for the three emergency meetings held this past week.

For the record, said Cambron, the party will attempt to start from scratch and open a brand new bank account this week, to be administered by himself as acting chair, jointly with the party treasurer. (There is confusion on the point of who the treasurer is, by the way. Committee member Jonathan Lewis was named by the party during the previous year but has not registered as such with the state, and the minutes contain references to Lewis’ dissatisfaction with such records as he had received from Carson.)

3) Flyer account: “…[B]eginning in September, he [Carson] had made some 63 different ATM withdrawals of money which Carson contended had been used on behalf of legitimate party expenses but for which he could offer no receipts.”

Carson’s response: (“The self audit presentation specifically detailed the withdrawals and what they were used for, i.e. $3000 paid to the hotel in which a Party Roast was held – this payment was made with several cash payments.)

Flyer response.: The term “self audit” is something of an oxymoron and is evidently former chairman Carson’s term for a list of alleged expenditures he submitted to the steering committee upon their request. But the written minutes of the two steering committee meetings are clear on one point, as are the word-of-mouth reports of executive committee members present at Saturday’s meeting: Carson has not, up to this point, submitted receipts for his expenditures. Period. And his claimed expenses were typically paid with cash -- an unusual practice and another sticking point with the steering and executive committees.

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