Friday, February 29, 2008

02/28 - Jekyll board stands by its numbers

Date: February 28, 2008
Section(s): Local News

The Brunswick News

The Jekyll Island Authority is denying accusations by state Sen. Jeff Chapman that the authority is distorting its financial picture and the number of annual visitors to the Island.

Chapman, R-Brunswick, contends the authority failed to report more than $11 million in revenue over the past decade and under reported attendance as well.

"We are taking these charges very seriously," said Eric Garvey, director of marketing and business development for the Jekyll Island Authority. "But it appears that Sen. Chapman is trying to defame our reputation.

"This is nothing more than dirty politics."

In an e-mail released Tuesday to the media, Chapman accused the authority of withholding what he calls important financial information from public documents in its 2007 annual report.

"This new information is eye-opening," Chapman said. "I've been working on these numbers for weeks, checking and rechecking to make sure I was as accurate as possible.

"What I found just didn't add up. We discovered that the authority has underreported its revenue by $11,330,368 over the past 10 years in its earning statements."

The authority debunks the accusation, noting that the funds Chapman cites were given to the authority by the state, such as from sales tax grants, and do not have to be reported to state auditors. Adding in those grants would account for the funds Chapman is referring to as unreported, Garvey said.

"This is Sen. Chapman's misunderstanding," said Garvey. "He did not contact us for information and clarification. We have a clean track record."

The authority follows budgetary accounting practices common to nonprofit organizations, he said.

Chapman also claims that the authority misstated the number of visitors to the island. According to Chapman, the authority reported a drop of 1.5 million visitors since the mid-1990s, based on traffic counts.

That number is impossible because the number of individuals staying in island motels has not declined, Chapman said.

Garvey, noting the method of counting visitors was changed in 1997 by the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Chapman's accusations are merely an attempt to halt the Jekyll Island redevelopment plans and the authority's partnership with Linger Longer Communities.

"The senator's claim of improper reporting of Jekyll visitation by the authority is also false and misleading," Garvey said. "Mr. Chapman is well aware that conventions, hotel occupancy, golf courses, the water park and all visitation to Jekyll have declined in recent years.

"Mr. Chapman's repeated attempts to derail the revitalization of Jekyll Island have failed. Now, he has resorted to false claims to further his effort."

Not true, says Chapman. He said his examination of income reports is not an attempt to defame the authority but rather in keeping with the ideals of good stewardship.

"What is the definition of dirty politics? I'm aggravated to hear that," Chapman said. "That is what weak persons say to strong information.

"This is not about politics. It's about taking care of public trust."

Chapman is currently pushing three bills in the General Assembly that would drastically alter, if not altogether stop, a $341 million redevelopment plan.

Under the plan by Linger Longer Communities, a new convention center, new hotels, part-time residences and additional parking would be added to Georgia's only oceanfront state park.

The drive for redevelopment of the island has been spurred by the deterioration of some motels and a claimed drop in the number of visitors.

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