published Friday, July 22nd, 2011

BlueCross temporarily suspends funds for minority chamber


by Cliff Hightower
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A major corporate donor to the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce said Thursday it would pull funding temporarily to the chamber, which faces two federal investigations and questions about its financial dealings.

Mary Danielson, spokeswoman for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said the company is committed to diversity and empowerment as advocated by the chamber.

“However, we are temporarily suspending our funding of the [Multicultural] Chamber pending the outcome of the investigations into its finances and operations,” she said.

The Multicultural Chamber has been under fire since a city review described its possible financial mismanagement, extravagant salaries and travel expenses and questionable land deals. The review was spurred after a Chattanooga Times Free Press investigation showed discrepancies in the chamber’s requests to the city and county for financial support.

This week, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development began inquiries into the chamber’s finances and activities.

Danielson said BlueCross BlueShield provided financial and in-kind support.

Other companies that sponsor the Multicultural Chamber took a more cautious approach Thursday.

The Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce website lists seven private companies as “Corporate Champions:” AT&T, EPB, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen Group of America, Erlanger Health System and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Gary Davis, Coca-Cola spokesman, said his company supported the group for a number of years and already has given it money this year. Coca-Cola is not considering withdrawing its sponsorship, he said.

“What we do going forward depends upon what happens,” he said.

VW spokesman Guenther Scherelis said earlier this week that decisions on future sponsorship would be made toward the end of the calendar year.

TVA and Erlanger officials said they have given the chamber annual donations of $5,000, but they will await the outcome of the current investigation before deciding on future funding.

EPB spokesman Danna Bailey said her organization has sponsored tables at luncheons and other chamber events, but she couldn’t say whether that support will continue.

Multicultural Chamber Executive Director Sherrie Gilchrist was out of the office Thursday and did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Chattanooga and Hamilton County elected officials also distanced themselves Thursday from the chamber.

County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said “there is no sentiment at all” to continue giving the chamber $75,000 a year in funds.

On top of that, he said he thinks the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce or a similar organization should be encouraging minority business development rather than the Multicultural Chamber, whose stated role is to help minority-based businesses within the community and to encourage minority-business growth.

“You’re probably going to see another entity,” Henry said.

City Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd also has requested other options for minority business development, including work by the larger Chamber or a like-minded organization or the Chattanooga Urban League.

Ladd said it shouldn’t take long to find such an organization.

“I think we’ve already started a dialogue,” she said.

Ladd said Thursday that investigations by the FBI and HUD could take months, even up to a year, to be completed.

The city and county each canceled allocations of $75,000 to the Multicultural Chamber after the Times Free Press investigation, but the City Council voted this week to set aside $75,000 for a yet-to-be-named group to carry out the same mission.

Some council members said that group still could be the Multicultural Chamber, if its leaders can answer questions from the city as well as the FBI or HUD.

The city’s review led to a list of 18 questions for the Multicultural Chamber to answer. The Chamber responded to those questions Tuesday at the City Council meeting and Wednesday at the County Commission meeting.

Commissioner Fred Skillern said he looked at the chamber’s responses and still was not satisfied.

“Seventy-five percent of the answers, I would still have questions,” he said.

Skillern said he has seen at least three versions of Gilchrist’s salary, and he wants answers.

“I want to see all the facts come out,” he said. “Give me a little bit of truth, and I might consider it.”

He added that right now, however, he would not support giving any money to the chamber.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Thursday that after laying off workers and freezing positions to save $13 million in a tight budget, the county can’t consider funding the chamber now.

“We simply don’t have the resources,” Coppinger said.

Other commissioners and council members could not be reached for comment Thursday. Commissioners could vote on the budget Thursday.

City Councilwoman Sally Robinson said the chamber faces four to five serious inquiries.

“The Multicultural Chamber has their work cut out for them,” she said, and the city needs to look for “another entity” for the mission.

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hcirehttae said...

How can I go about pulling my funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield in protest of their extravagant spending and executive compensation? They're supposed to be a nonprofit health care provider, not another version of the United Way, distributing money here and there and yon, and raising rates in double digits every year.

July 22, 2011 at 3:57 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Hamilton County DA and judges speak out against Public Corruption. Here's what they have to say.

http://bit.ly/qc143D

July 22, 2011 at 5:42 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

hcir try working for them

July 22, 2011 at 7:23 a.m.
timbo said...

sounds like to me that volkswagen and blue cross blue shield ,are being racist . where is jo Ann favors on this deal . you know how those germans are ,,and blue cross favors those smurfs .(blue cross - blue smurfs ....get it ). remember it's all about race. Oh,that's right it's only about race when its rhonda thurman .

July 22, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Well played BCBST...well played indeed. Glad to see them stepping up and making a statement.

July 22, 2011 at 9:27 a.m.
cinderella said...

The TMCC needs to be disolved. No entity whether Urban Leauge, The Chattanooga Chamber or anyone would ever "take it over" - too much debt and too much baggage. Nope its done.

July 22, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.
librul said...

You're all nothing but a bunch of loudmouthed airbags puffing up, clearing your throats and expressing nothing but your own personal prejudices about a subject on which you have no firsthand knowledge with Cliff Hightower as your cheerleader. Disgusting.

The treasonous Teaputrid republican ideologues in Washington are pushing the country and the world toward economic calamity and depression and you are worried about this little bumnp in the road? Heck, it's just a product of the national economic decline and you are all so blinded by prejudice and small-mindedness that you can't see it. See you in the breadlines.

July 22, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Mr. Hightower is to be commended for his journalism. There's been a big change at the TFP since Tom Griscom departed. It's called investigative reporting.

Griscom was playing footsies with the politicians, developers, and corporate-welfare queens in Chattanooga and didn't want to upset their/his applecart.

Keep up the good work Mr. Hightower and TFP editor. It's good to see a newspaper reporting on corruption, not just fluff.

July 22, 2011 at 10:46 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

tnvolssuckbad- @hcirehttae- try getting your facts straight on what a NON-PROFIT business and a NOT FOR PROFIT business as BCBS is.

I stand corrected on this point. I understand that they're not like NPR or the Heritage Foundation, but I don't see why Not-For-Profit health-care corporations should make contributions to any other organizations with their subscribers' premiums that are intended to pay for doctors, medicines, surgery, etc. Is it part of their charter or purpose to distribute funds to "worthy causes" around the community whenever they have a surplus, all the while raising rates each year? If you can enlighten me with a combination of facts and your opinion--without the pointless sarcasm--I am open to learning something else.

July 22, 2011 at 11:02 a.m.
timbo said...

Librul......The main big mouth is you.Your hatred of the Tea Party borders on insanity

July 22, 2011 at 12:43 p.m.
Draco said...

@hcirehttae: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is not using premium dollars to fund these initiatives. Where did you get that idea?
Mr. Hightower: I studied under many of the same professors you did. This story wouldn't get a passing grade in a JEM101 class. It would appear that all of the people you contacted or made public comments are "suspending" support pending the outcome of the investigation. It's not a story; it's a two-sentence comment in a real story.

July 22, 2011 at 12:52 p.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Check out the percentages on every dollar that BCBST pays out of your premiums. 85% goes to healthcare cost and basic necessities..15% is left to cover employee salaries, building maintenace, etc....Now those arent the exact figures but even TFP ran a piece on it several months ago breaking down the way BCBST operates. It'll open your eyes.

July 22, 2011 at 12:58 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

@hcirehttae: BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is not using premium dollars to fund these initiatives. Where did you get that idea?

Okay, explain to me please how the money goes in and the money comes out without getting mixed together - I believe the term is "fungible," meaning one dollar bill is the same as another, once they're put in the same pot. I'm serious - explain it to me if i'm incorrect, because I don't know how BCBS can operate a charitable funding organization separate from its mission as a health insurance provider.

July 22, 2011 at 1 p.m.
bigbearzzz said...

I love how the TFP changed the headline from "BCBST Dumps" to the new one....somebody got in trouble!!

July 22, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
Draco said...

Insurance premiums aren't their only source of revenue.

July 22, 2011 at 2:16 p.m.
mystyre said...

hcirehttae SAID... I don't see why Not-For-Profit health-care corporations should make contributions to any other organizations with their subscribers' premiums that are intended to pay for doctors, medicines, surgery, etc. Is it part of their charter or purpose to distribute funds to "worthy causes" around the community whenever they have a surplus, all the while raising rates each year?

would you prefer the donated money went to the executives wages and bonuses? or somebody's lap band surgery or sex change operation? it's called social responsibility. we live in an era where there is no corporate accountability and you cannot understand why a LOCAL company wants to help the LOCAL community. in general, many business fund other organizations as a tax write off. there's your answer.

i believe timbo needs to get a better grasp on the situation at hand before he starts spewwing adjectives. whenever you point at people, there's usually three others pointing back at you, homie. lol

July 22, 2011 at 2:49 p.m.

Is it just me or does having a separate chamber of commerce for black people smack of segregation? What is next, separate restrooms? How about separate water fountains? Maybe separate sections of the bus? Why can't they just utilize the same chamber everyone else does? Do black people want to be treated differently or not? To those who want to put some kind of negative light on BlueCross, it seems to me that they are working to improve the community by reinvesting in it and protecting that investment by suspending funding until the charges are investigated. Sounds good to me.

July 22, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.
mystyre said...

FlyingPurpleSheepleEater, your segregation perspective is on point, but it's not based on race.

July 22, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.
timbo said...

mystyre...Did you read librul's post. Let me show you, "You're all nothing but a bunch of loudmouthed airbags puffing up, clearing your throats and expressing nothing but your own personal prejudices about a subject on which you have no firsthand knowledge with Cliff Hightower as your cheerleader. Disgusting.

The treasonous Teaputrid republican ideologues in Washington are pushing the country and the world toward economic calamity and depression and you are worried about this little bumnp in the road? Heck, it's just a product of the national economic decline and you are all so blinded by prejudice and small-mindedness that you can't see it. See you in the breadlines."

Now, who was name calling? The Tea Party comment aren't insane? His last statement," See you in the breadlines," is ok if you make the bread. The only thing pushing us to oblivion is liberal spending policies, global warming nonsense, and Obama and the Republicans form of national socialist government.

Why isn't it racist to take money away from the Multi-national (Black) Chamber? Isn't everything negative towards minorities racist? It amazes me how some of you guys can be so wrong so much of the time.

July 22, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.
mystyre said...

i didn't respond to librul's comments because he reminds me of the emperor from the star wars movies.

however, if you would allow me to answere your second question with another question; what if the Chamber is not helping anyone to which it was intended? plus, "Sherrie Gilchrist, executive director of the Tennessee Multicultural Chamber of Commerce, also served on the board of a nonprofit entity that lent the Chamber more than half a million dollars, a Chattanooga Times Free Press review shows." here'sthe article: http://timesfreepress.com/news/2011/j... doesn't that smell a lil' funny to you?

July 22, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.
timbo said...

mystyre:...I think you no I was being sarcastic about the racism thing. In any event, neither Chamber is good for anything except making contacts. They are useless wastes of tax payer money.

July 22, 2011 at 4:41 p.m.
Draco said...

@payingattention: Do you make a habit of being wrong? Calling people names for having time to blog . . . while you're blogging? Really?!

Being raised by journalists doesn't make you an expert on writing. Q.E.D.: my comments don't attempt to discredit Mr. Hightower's work; I simply commented that he could have covered this in two sentences in another story that actually mattered.
Get to the heart of the Chamber controversy; don't gossip about extraneous details that indicate very little about the truth.

July 22, 2011 at 4:47 p.m.
mystyre said...

i didn't, timbo. and i apologize for mistaking you sarcasm.

July 22, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.

How many years has the 'county' been paying 75K to TMCC? And they off lay workers? Something is sooooo not right in this picture.

Miss Sherrie is in lots of do-do but trust me, littleman is in far worse.

The scenic city's politics make it the laughing stock of the South!

July 22, 2011 at 5:21 p.m.
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