GREENSBORO, N.C. – The city of Greensboro wrote a check to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum for $750,000 in October. It was a loan with stipulations, one included the museum giving the city a copy of its audit.
The contract between the museum and the city was not signed until Friday. This agreement was reached five months ago.
This is not the first concern regarding the $1.5 million loan to the ICRCM.
Just two week ago, we learned the museum's 2012 audit that was due January 31 was late – and that deadline was one month later than the original one set for January 1.
"There may be some mutual responsibility but in my opinion, if we are writing a check for $750,000 of someone else's money, then it's our responsibility to make sure things are in place before that check is issued," said Councilman Tony Wilkins, Greensboro, District 5.
At the city council's work session on Friday, Councilman Wilkins requested to see a copy of the loan contract and learned it had not been signed.
"It was a routine request but the results of that request was anything but routine," said Councilman Wilkins.
Also, Councilman Wilkins says councilmembers were not aware the audit deadline had been extended.
"Anytime the council votes on a $1.5 million contract, anytime anything is changed, it is certainly the responsibility of the manager to inform the council members," said Councilman Wilkins.
"I haven't talked to any council member that was informed that that was extended."
The city has a checklist it goes through when it comes to loaning money, but for the deal with the Civil Rights museum - that process was not followed.
WFMY News 2's Morgan Hightower spoke to new city manager Jim Westmoreland about the contract, and why it was not signed until last week.
"There clearly are some processes here that were not correct that we executed on behalf of the city on working through this with the Civil Rights Museum that I and we will look at improving in the future going forward," explained City Manager Jim Westmoreland.
Westmoreland was not the city manager when this deal was reached. Instead of a written agreement, there was a verbal agreement between the museum and city regarding this loan.
When asked about the city's standard procedure when it comes to issuing loan checks, city spokesman Donnie Turlington wrote in an email, "typically we have contracts in place prior to check's being cut, so our normal process would be for a resolution approved by Council, a contract developed and then the financial exchange. There are special circumstances where that process does not occur and this would constitute one of those circumstances."
City Manager Jim Westmoreland says there was not a contract in place because the city was working to determine the collateral interest - or what the city would get if the museum failed to fulfill its end of the deal.
"Its my understanding that a couple of things were going on with that – first of all, the museum itself is as very complicated structure. It consists of 5 different LLCs and one of the things the city council had asked for was a condition where there was some kind of security interest in the building itself which evidently was complicating the work of our city attorney's office with the civil rights museum which lead to some of the delays," explained Westmoreland.
"What you will see if you look at the current agreement that we have is that issue about the security interest, or the security lien of the facility still needs to be worked out. Everything else is there in terms of the requirements themselves behind the conditions that civil rights museum is required to provide information to the city and an effective payment schedule over the course of the 3 year period of time."
Initially, the city council approved the museum would receive its loan payments in installments. The first check would be written for $400,000 after receiving the museum's 2010 audit. The second check would be written for $350,000 after receiving the museum's 2011 audit. Instead, the museum was given one payment of $750,000 on October 25.
"There were well-intentions from both parties… but we did not have an agreement in place when this first issuance of $750,000 was advanced from the city back in October," explained Westmoreland.
This deal was managed by former city manager Denise Turner Roth.
Westmoreland says he respects her decisions and does not think information was kept from the council - but he did say he will make sure the process that is in the books, is the one that will be followed from now on.
"I think it's important as the council members have stated that we are accountable for tax dollars that we allocate on behalf of the city and its important that we pay attention to those details," said Westmoreland.
To ensure this doesn't happen again, Mayor Nancy Vaughan will introduce a motion that says no checks for loans will be written without an executed contract in place.
She's presenting that at Wednesday's council meeting.
Instead of the typical contractural agreement needed before writing a loan check, the city of Greensboro accepted a verbal agreement from the Civil Rights Museum before handing over $750,000.