After a heated discussion, Whirllie Byrd was ousted as chair of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors on Thursday.
“Obviously, there are certain board members who want me out of this position,” Byrd said, when election of new officers was brought up.
The issue was the second agenda item, after the swearing in of new city-appointed board member Bernard Buckhalter.
The problem, Byrd said, was with Mark Castleberry and Bart Wise, both of whom she accused of being dishonest at times.
Castleberry stood up, ready to leave the room before he withstood anymore “personal attacks.”
Byrd had previously said being chairwoman was not her strong suit, Wise mentioned.
“Don”t start not being honest,” she responded.
Buckhalter, who had several family members and supporters at the meeting to watch Mayor Robert Smith officially swear him in, voiced concerns over why the board was electing new officers when Byrd had just been seated as chair in February.
“I don”t understand what”s happening,” he said, referring to a set of bylaws included in his board book.
Wise clarified the bylaws included were for the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation board, on which CVB board members also serve. Buckhalter still wasn”t satisfied with why the board wanted to elect new officers, rather than let the current officers serve out some established term length.
Castleberry made the motion, seconded by Wise, to elect new officers.
Byrd was replaced with George Swales, by a vote of 6-2, with Buckhalter and Byrd voting against, though there were no alternate nominations made.
“I”m not voting against you,” Buckhalter said. “I”m voting against the procedure. … It sounds to me like we can just adopt new board (officers) at every meeting.”
“We don”t have a board attorney. We don”t know what we”re doing. We”re just operating by the seat of our pants,” Byrd said, as she moved from the head of the table to swap seats with Swales. “So, Mr. Buckhalter, you just have to grab hold and hold on.”
According to legislation governing the CVB board, the members would elect new officers once seated. The officers would serve for a maximum of a year. Four board members are appointed by the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors. Four board members are appointed by the Columbus City Council. A ninth board member, yet to be selected, will be appointed jointly by Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders.
Castleberry declined to comment on why he called for the election of new officers, other than to say he felt Swales would do the best job.
“I voted for George the first time,” he noted.
Byrd said her removal from the president”s seat stemmed from her pushing for a board attorney and open meetings, as well as scrutinizing things such as a personal use of the CVB credit cards and paying board members for services or for participating in CVB-funded events.
“I would disagree with those statements,” Castleberry said.
Castleberry was named vice president, and Wise was elected secretary/treasurer.
In closing the hours-long meeting, where various business matters were discussed, Swales pledged to maintain the integrity of the board and charged his fellow board members to do the same.
“I have not led my life looking in the mirror, and I don”t intend to start now. I lead my life looking through the windshield,” Swales said.
With the challenges of hiring a full-time executive director, establishing board policies and balancing a budget, the board can”t afford to continue to “play defense” as they have for the past several months.
“Defense takes an awful lot of energy, and in the end, all you”ve done is stop someone from running over you,” Swales said, urging the board to “be forward looking.”
“We are one agency in the fabric of a quilt that is Lowndes County,” he continued, pledging to serve “integrity and truth” and reminding fellow board members that each of them serves the interests of the citizens of Lowndes County as a whole, despite any political reasons the supervisors or councilmen may have had for appointing them.
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