The Denison Area Chamber of Commerce has put in place policy and procedure changes aimed at adding additional oversight and protection over the organization’s finances. The changes come, as the chamber transitions to new leadership with new Chamber President Ken Higdon, who is set to start Monday.
“Essentially, any business that is maintaining relevance and good business practices always looks at ways to be more efficient and responsive,” Interim Chamber President Shelle Cassell, who finished her last day at the helm of the chamber last month, said. “So, I think that is an ongoing effort.”
Cassell stepped in as interim president following the sudden retirement of the former Denison Chamber president in late October of 2016. Nearly one year later, the chamber announced Higdon as its incoming president during its annual awards luncheon. Higdon previously served as the president of the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce.
Cassell said the changes are designed to add additional layers of checks and balances to the chamber’s finances by adding additional staff and officials to the process. As an example of these changes, Cassell said the chamber president is no longer able to write and sign the same check. Instead, the checks must feature two signatures of officials authorized to sign for the chamber.
“More people are looking at it (finances) now,” Cassell said. “More people are responsible for the pieces of the transaction. It doesn’t fall in any one place anymore.”
As another example, Cassell said any money coming into the chamber, through dues or other fees, would be collected in one location and reported in another. At the end of the week, the two reports will be compared to each other to check for any differences.
Members of the board will also be given a copy of the monthly bank statement to review along with financial reports. Cassell noted that the reports are not itemized and are organized by the category of expense, but the board is able to request copies of checks.
The changes come months after the former president pleaded guilty in the 59th state district court to one count of theft of over $30,000 and under $150,000 related to funds that appeared to be missing from the chamber and the Denison Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is overseen by the chamber through an agreement with the city.
“I think a lot of organizations in the area took a look at their practices,” Cassell said, describing the response to the thefts. “We certainly took a look at ours and we are changing a number of financial transparency practices.”
Denison City Manager Jud Rex said many of the changes the chamber has made are similar to the city’s procedures and best practices. Through these practices, which include separating duties on who issues and signs checks, Rex said the city could stop similar thefts from occurring within the city.
Rex said the agreement between the chamber and city regarding the visitor’s bureau funds is in need of renewal and he expects it to be done within the coming months. Rex said the city is holding on discussions on the renewal to allow Higdon to start on the job and consult with them regarding the contract.
As a part of the renewal, Rex said he would like to see the agreement include mandatory audits of the visitor’s bureau account each year. Previously, an audit could be requested by the city, at its expense, however, regularly scheduled audits were not required.
This would give an extra level of oversight into bureau transactions and payments, but Rex noted that it isn’t a full solution to the previous problems facing the chamber.
“An audit, unless it is a forensic account audit that is much more than a regular audit, isn’t going to catch the things that happened before,” Rex said. “It is still a good indicator of if policies and procedures are followed.”
Rex said the audit would likely be a minimal expense to the city and could likely be included in the city’s annual audit.
When asked for comment about the changes in procedure at the chamber, Higdon said it was too early for him to comment as he has yet to review them ahead of his transition into his new role.
Despite having not studied the changes in Denison, Higdon said he previously held similar separations of duty and checks and balances at the Lamar County Chamber where he had a staff of more than eight employees fulfilling chamber duties.
As an example of the separation of duties, Higdon said one employee would open mail while another made copies of checks and yet another handled bank deposits for the chamber. Finally, a fourth person would check the chamber deposits against the copied checks, he said.
“We are going to be one of the best run businesses in town,” he said.