So what exactly is the legal mechanism for County Commission Chairman Mike Hammond’s proposed county audit of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center? The African-American heritage center on Dandridge Avenue is, after all, an independent non-profit. But Hammond says he’s been assured the county has the authority to audit the Beck’s use of county funding, which has run to somewhere in the vicinity of $3 million in the past decade. The majority of that was for renovation and expansion of the center, which now includes a new meeting room, banquet/exhibit area, and climate-controlled archives area. Hundreds of thousands also helped pay for operating expenses during the years from 2004-10, when Beck was under a Memorandum of Understanding with the county and was—to some degree—technically a county operation.
This has all come up because County Mayor Tim Burchett has proposed cutting the Beck’s county funding from $150,000 this year to $12,000 in his 2012 budget. Beck officials say the cut would effectively shut them down. Hammond and some other commissioners say they want to find a way to keep the Beck running, but they also want to get a handle on who’s paid for what and how in recent years. Beck’s 990 non-profit tax filings with the IRS only complicate the issue, because they don’t reflect county funding from this period. Hammond says there needs to be clarity about the nature of the relationship between the county and the center, which everyone involved agrees was complicated and often contentious. “At one point they were under the library, and at what time did they stop being under the library totally?” Hammond asks. “There doesn’t seem to be any kind of paper trail here.” He will discuss his audit proposal at Commission’s next budget workshop at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 6, in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.