Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful board skirmishes exposed as CEO defies Cherry Blossom ouster

Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful commissioner Theresa Robinson, left, said the organization agreed to move out of the Cherry Blossom Festival headquarters at the Pink House, but CEO Pam Carswell, right, said she has “not made any such plans.”
Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful commissioner Theresa Robinson, left, said the organization agreed to move out of the Cherry Blossom Festival headquarters at the Pink House, but CEO Pam Carswell, right, said she has “not made any such plans.” Telegraph file photo

Keep-Macon Bibb Beautiful Commission CEO Pam Carswell did not vacate the Pink House Friday after internal board squabbles threaten the group’s funding and office space at Cherry Blossom Festival headquarters.

Carswell was given a 5 p.m. deadline but said she has no plans to move.

Last week, the Cherry Blossom Festival asked that its founding organization move out of building the two entities shared for years.

Don Bailey, the Cherry Blossom Festival’s board chairman, cited personnel issues when the festival originally wanted Carswell out of the building last week.

He and KMBBC Chairman Adam Cochran agreed to a one-week extension, Bailey said.

Carswell said she knows nothing about it.

“To my knowledge, KMBB has not agreed, as a board of commissioners, to move out of our headquarters, nor has any documentation or anything in writing been received that would justify ‘moving out’ of our headquarters,” she stated in an email response to a Telegraph inquiry.

Last week’s KMBBC meeting felt more like an ambush to Carswell and some board members, as they were told of the request to leave and got a lashing from Macon-Bibb County leaders about infighting concerns that made it to the mayor’s office.

County director of external affairs Chris Floore sent an email to the board this week accusing KMBBC of behavior “unbecoming of a public commission.”

“For several months, serious concerns and allegations have been brought to our attention by multiple people within your organization, and it’s our determination that an exorbitant amount of time and energy has been spent on extraneous issues,” stated Floore’s email, which was obtained through an open records request from The Telegraph.

The county has demanded KMBBC submit a written plan for the cleanup of the “community, streets and gateways” within 90 days or risk losing the $110,000 of public funds budgeted for Fiscal 2018.

At last week’s regular board meeting, interim County Manager Julie Moore also asked for KMBBC’s financial and activities reports.

Carswell has said an audit is underway and is not late.

She said after the city and county consolidated in 2014 that Mayor Robert Reichert told her monthly activity reports were not necessary.

A memo on Keep Macon Bibb Beautiful letterhead submitted to the mayor before the October board meeting indicate finance director Amy Tarpley reported the organization was $34,000-$50,000 over budget as of August.

The charge was found to be inaccurate by two independent accountants, according to the KMBBC memo received in the open records request.

Carswell claims she was not given the opportunity to discuss the matter and alleges executive board members tried to strip her of her CEO/President title, circulated rumors she mishandled funds and enacted hastily organized and unprecedented performance reviews to lead to her ouster.

As a result, the memo submitted to the mayor called for the resignations of chair Adam Cochran, past board chair Theresa Robinson, treasurer Billy Oliver and treasurer-elect Jean Bragg.

“That’s what got us involved in this whole thing,” Floore said late Friday afternoon.

Oliver and Bragg tendered their resignations in the explosive meeting on Oct. 19.

Carswell, who was out of the office until Monday due to a medical procedure, said she has no plans to leave the office at the corner of Cherry and New streets.

Bailey said due to Carswell’s absence, there are no current plans to physically move her belongings out of the building.

“Obviously if Pam is out on medical leave, we’ll do everything we can to work with them,” Bailey said. “We hope they get their issues worked out and everything returns to normal. This is crazy.”

Carswell maintains that the deed to the house identifies it as the headquarters for both Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful — which formed in 1974 — and the Cherry Blossom Festival, which was birthed from the clean-up organization in 1982.

She said if any changes have been made or an agreement reached to allow the Cherry Blossom Festival to take over the building and exclude KMBBC, it was done without her knowledge.

“As to whether KMBBC will be moving out of its headquarters at 794 Cherry Street in the future, I have not made any such plans,” she emailed.

Robinson is under the impression that Carswell agreed to the move last week.

“The president and CEO Pam Carswell agreed to move her office out of the Pink House as agreed with Cherry Blossom at the board meeting last week,” Robinson said in response to a Telegraph inquiry. “We have an agreement with Cherry Blossom, as far as the board is concerned. We are keeping that commitment.”

Macon-Bibb Commissioner Bert Bivins has called a meeting Tuesday with KMBBC, Cherry Blossom and the Industrial Authority to discuss their operations.

Bivins could not be reached for comment.

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines