Hilton Head chamber threatened with lawsuit over financial data

gsmith@islandpacket.comDecember 19, 2012 

A local businessman who is battling the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce said he is taking his fight to court.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for Skip Hoagland, a businessman and critic of the chamber, sent a letter to the organization saying he will file a lawsuit within 10 days if the chamber does not turn over accounting data previously requested.

"We'll file lawsuits," Hoagland said. "We'll spend as much money as we have to to make people be transparent and do what's right."

Hoagland has run about a dozen advertisements in The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette this year. He has questioned everything from chamber CEO Bill Miles' salary of more then $320,000 to the chamber's advertising sales that, Hoagland says, unfairly compete against local companies that are chamber members. Hoagland owns a firm that runs city websites and makes money through ad sales.

His challenge brings to the forefront a larger issue: Do the chamber and other organizations that accept public dollars from towns, cities and counties have to disclose detailed information to the public?

The chamber, a 501(c)(6) organization, accepts accommodations tax money, generated from a tax on overnight lodging, from the Town of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County each year. The money comprised 29 percent of the chamber's revenue last fiscal year, according to the chamber's annual report.

The chamber is not a public body, its leaders say, and is not required to follow the state's Freedom of Information Act and provide the information Hoagland wants. That includes copies of invoices, contracts and checks -- financial information that is not audited and goes beyond what is available on the chamber's website.

According to court rulings, however, organizations that receive public money are public bodies and must comply with the Freedom of Information Act.

Charlie Clark, chamber spokeswoman, said Hoagland has already been given three years of audited financial reports, correspondence with members and more, and she doubts he would be satisfied with any amount of data provided.

"We are very transparent. We always have been," Clark said.

Hoagland's attorney, Dean Bell, said in the letter to the chamber that the records originally were requested on Nov. 26.

"I have received no acknowledgment or response of any kind concerning this request," Bell wrote. He added that the 15-day limit for responding to such requests had expired.

The request "cannot simply be ignored," Bell wrote.

Related Content

  1. Hilton Head man files 'whistleblower' claim against Chamber groups. Sept. 19, 2012
  2. Startup Bluffton chamber seeking members, public funding. March 12, 2012
  3. Hilton Head businessman pursues formation of new toursim bureau. Jan. 27, 2012

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