Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter’s contract is being renegotiated. The term may be reduced from three years to one, and at least some board members are reportedly exploring putting someone else in charge of the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation.
Carpenter, who has been executive director since 2011, is employed via a three-year contract for both posts. Her combined salary is $120,545, with $102,556 of that coming from the CVB and the rest from the CCHF.
The contracts run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and her last contract was approved in 2019.
The CVB board met for more than three hours in executive session Monday night to discuss Carpenter’s contract. No official action was taken, but at least one board member told The Dispatch that changes were afoot.
Reelin’ in the years
One board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the matter being discussed in executive session, said there was a “consensus” among board members to change Carpenter’s contract from three years to year to year.
In 2019 the Preservation Society of Columbus notified the CVB that it wanted to take over the tour of homes portion of the Spring Pilgrimage. This year was the first time the PSC-led Pilgrimage was held, after there were no tours during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After we lost the Pilgrimage, the responsibility changed,” the board member said. “There’s a clause in her contract that says we can go year to year.”
The board member admitted that no vote was taken, but said that was the prevailing opinion.
CVB Board President Liz Terry was guarded about discussing the details of the executive session, but did say that nothing was set in stone yet.
“(Carpenter) is currently on a three-year contract,” Terry said. “We’ve not made any decisions as relates to the terms of a new contract.”
When asked what the prevailing sentiment of the board was as far as a three-year or one-year term, Terry said it was a personnel issue and wouldn’t comment further.
When asked if the length of Carpenter’s contract was in play, longtime CVB board member Rissa Lawrence also said that the terms had not been nailed down.
“There was some discussion about changing the terms of her contract,” Lawrence said. “That’s about all I can say.”
Lawrence also noted she wasn’t present for the whole discussion. She left about two and a half hours into the executive session.
Carpenter told The Dispatch she is fine with whatever contract length the board offered.
“I haven’t heard anything (about changes to the contract),” she said. “… I’ll be fine if it’s a one-year contract. That does not concern me at all.”
The anonymous board member said the board had discussed splitting Carpenter’s job responsibilities and getting someone else to run the CCHF, which is a nonprofit affiliated with the CVB that oversees the Tennessee Williams home, among other responsibilities.
“We should not pay (Carpenter) two salaries from the same pot,” the board member said. “It’s dual employment. We discussed that (Board Attorney John Brady) is supposed to get an opinion on whether or not we can pay her for both positions when she’s working basically the same work hours.”
Brady would not comment on whether he had been instructed to seek an Attorney General’s Opinion.
“I can’t discuss what was discussed in executive session,” he said.
When asked if it was unusual to have someone holding two positions simultaneously, he said wasn’t sure. He did say he thinks it is legal.
“There was legal advice given when the contracts were entered into,” he said.
Terry would not confirm whether that had been talked about.
“No decisions have been made about that,” Terry said. “And I can’t discuss what was discussed on a personnel issue.”
Lawrence said she wasn’t aware of that discussion.
“The ones I have talked to about (the contract) are not discussing it because they want to get rid of her,” Lawrence said. “They just have some feelings about the contract they want to get straightened out. It’s nothing to do with something she’s done or hasn’t done.”
She said she didn’t think removing Carpenter as CCHF head would be a good idea.
“I’m not sure why they would want to do that,” she said. “She gets a lot of grants, and they come through the CCHF because it is a nonprofit and can apply for grants that the CVB doesn’t qualify for.”
Carpenter said the CCHF “was a very sensitive topic for a lot of reasons.”
Many of its activities revolve around grant-writing and maintaining the Tennessee Williams Home, and both of those areas are more complicated that they may appear, she said.
“It’s more than running a little foundation,” she said. “You have to have a person with extreme knowledge and experience writing grants. It needs a lot of maintenance work right now. … We’re in the middle of a restoration project. It’s not like just turning it over.”
Carpenter said the welcome center sees thousands of visitors a year, and that causes a lot of wear and tear.
“Certainly not during (the pandemic), but thousands of people come through there a year,” she said. “If you took my house, which was built in 1838, and I had (thousands) of people coming through it every year it would need work all the time. If a person is going to be hired to run that, you’re talking about a lot of money.”
Going through changes
Both Lawrence and Carpenter emphasized the board members who signed Carpenter’s last contract have mostly turned over.
“One thing I thought of about the discussion of the contracts that I think is very important is the fact that most of our board members are new,” Lawrence said. “This is the first time they have been involved in the discussions about contract renewals.”
“I expect there to be changes because two-thirds of our board members are brand new,” Carpenter said. “That means two-thirds of the people sitting in that room were not there during the other three contractual agreements, and they deserve input. I will sit and look and listen and take note of whatever changes they choose to make and I’ll be fine.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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