Tourism Development Authority board chair controversy

Transparency and conflicts of interest cause concerns

Richard Lundy
Richard Lundy

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. — County commissioners heard the motion for the appointment of Richard Lundy, a Rumbling Bald executive, for the TDA board chair and heard two calls for a second before announcing the failure of the motion. Lundy in public comments said that he had just recently learned of the transparency and conflicts of interest concerns and vowed to address those issues. However, Lundy also stated that he had no idea of the history or direction of the TDA in the past.

The TDA recently came under scrutiny when Michelle Whitaker, executive director, called for her $850,000 budget approval without advertising for a public hearing. Whitaker’s budget includes a hefty salary increase, adding new employees, and the continued¬†subcontracting of its chartered marketing and promotion of Rutherford County.

TDA Executive Director Michelle Whitaker
TDA Executive Director Michelle Whitaker

Last¬†night another conflict with TDA executive director arose when it was pointed out the Whitaker’s husband works on the management team of Rumbling Bald in Lake Lure. Whitaker had not revealed the possible conflict of interest.

Other conflicts of interests include the fact that the McConnell Group, Whitaker’s subcontractor with a hefty contract, also is the public relations firm for the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Polk County. Whitaker has also used the county’s occupancy tax funds to promote this venue and its lodging requirements despite the law that directs that these funds be used exclusively for tourism promotion of Rutherford County, N.C.

The commissioner chair asked Whitaker if there had been a vote made regarding the email poll of the nomination of board chair as her bylaws deemed necessary. Whitaker replied in the negative and stated that the “board chair appointment was the responsibility of the county commissioners.”

After the motion died without an appointment of a board chair,¬†Whitaker asked the commissioners “what am I supposed to do now.”

County commissioner chair Bryan King answered, “We’ll get back to you.”