Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says lawsuit is filled wit - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says lawsuit is filled with false, baseless allegations

Members of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce respond to a lawsuit filed last week. (Source: Audrey Biesk) Members of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce respond to a lawsuit filed last week. (Source: Audrey Biesk)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce held a conference at 1 p.m. Tuesday to respond to a lawsuit filed last week alleging the organization “consistently redirected taxpayer funds” to businesses started by current and/or former employees. Members of the chamber said the lawsuit was filled with baseless, vindictive, unsubstantiated allegations made by a disgruntled former member.

Watch full video of the news conference on our Facebook page below:

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by Karon Mitchell, names the MBACC, the city of Myrtle Beach and Horry County as defendants. Read more here.

It alleges portions of the tourism development fee were sent to the companies, which were chosen “solely for their connection to MBACC and not for any ‘research based outcomes.’”

WMBF News fact-checked the figures used in the lawsuit, and found that while many of the figures matched public records released by the chamber, there was one $28 million discrepancy regarding one of the companies named in the suit. Read more here.

At Tuesday's news conference, MBACC board chairwoman Carla Schuessler said the lawsuit was filled with unsubstantiated allegations and baseless accusations against the chamber by a disgruntled former member. 

"The chamber adheres with all applicable laws and guidelines," Schuessler said. "We take the public stewardship of our funds very seriously."

The marketing council chairman, Matt Klugman, addressed each company listed in the lawsuit, and stated that, “Mrs. Mitchell is making a false and shocking disregard to the facts."

"We reject this meaningless and mean-spirited attack," Schuessler continued. "Had she simply asked questions we would have answered them. We have no choice but to refute it in the court of law."

The chamber released these statements about the businesses they said are falsely attacked by Mitchell in her lawsuit:

Visibility & Conversions is a local business employing local residents. Through a competitive bidding/RFP process, this business was selected by the Board of Directors to manage the digital marketing accounts of the Chamber. The business is located at 11947 Grandhaven Drive, Suite North, Murrells Inlet, SC and has never operated out of a storage shed as Ms. Mitchell falsely states in her lawsuit. This business is owned by a former employee of the Chamber. However, at no time did this individual work as an employee of the Chamber and operate a business contracting with the Chamber.

Furthermore, Visibility & Conversions is the primary agency of record that manages our vast digital advertising and promotion campaigns. In this modern era of marketing, digital advertising is the largest investment used to promote our number one industry. While it is true that Visibility & Conversions receives very large amounts of marketing dollars for this effort, nearly all of these funds are paid to companies such as Google, Yahoo, Travel Zoo, Facebook, and other companies. The team at Visibility & Conversions is paid to manage these important investments.

Com-Connect is a local business employing local residents which was selected by the Chamber Board of Directors through a competitive bidding process to manage the Chamber/CVB’s call center. Since the inception of this contract, this company has broadened its roles and responsibilities, performing a variety of other duties related to out-of-market advertising and promotion. This business is owned by a former employee of the Chamber. However, at no time did this individual work as an employee of the Chamber and operate a business contracting with the Chamber.

Miller Direct is a local business that was scrutinized through an extensive RFQ process. Miller Direct does not have a contract with the Chamber. Rather, Miller Direct proposes marketing programs and services, and the Chamber either accepts or rejects proposals. Furthermore, Miller Direct began working with the Chamber in 1996, and its owner, Jackie Miller, was never, at any time, an employee of the Chamber.

Visual Destinations is a local business owned and operated by a local resident which was selected by the Chamber Board of Directors through a competitive bidding process to manage the Visit Myrtle Beach website. This business is owned by a former employee of the Chamber. However, at no time did this individual work as an employee of the Chamber and operate a business contracting with the Chamber.

Brandon Agency is a full-service ad agency that provides marketing services on an as-needed basis for the Chamber. Brandon Agency was selected through a competitive bidding process to manage advertising promotion for Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. Scott Brandon has not served on the Chamber board for more than 20 years.

Fuel Interactive LLC provides a broad-scope of advertising and promotion services for a wide array of local businesses. Fuel Interactive was selected through a competitive bidding process to manage digital advertising for Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday.

Right Analytics, LLC is a company that was formed by Jim Wright, who had previously served as the Chamber’s Executive Vice President of Finance, but eventually resigned to locate to another state. After an extensive 14-month national search to fill its need for a business intelligence officer to head its research and analysis efforts, the Chamber contracted with Mr. Wright to perform these duties.

Battle Strategies is a local company owned and operated by a local resident who previously worked for the Chamber. She chose to leave her position at the chamber to start her own business and start a family. She proposed to continue her highly-effective work creating internet content and videos for Visit Myrtle Beach, and the Chamber chose to use her services on a contract basis. It’s important to note that her compensation as a contractor is much less than she made as an employee.

Schuessler then said that she and the other members of the chamber would be walking across the street to support the city of Myrtle Beach in their renewal of the Tourism Development Fee, which was due for a second and final reading during the regular council meeting Tuesday.

Mark Kruea, Myrtle Beach spokesperson, said the city does not comment on pending litigation. Kelly Moore, Horry County spokesperson, provided a similar response.

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