Council committee recommends St. James audit, cancel contract

Published 11:50 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2015

By Blake Deshazo

The Selma Times-Journal

The Selma City Council had many questions for Strand Management, the company the city has contracted to run day-to-day operations of the St. James Hotel, after an informal audit was conducted by the city.

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The audit, performed by Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade, discovered “improprieties” in Strand’s record keeping and management of the hotel.

In a Selma Public Buildings Meeting held Wednesday, Strand responded to the findings in an open discussion on the issues.

“I think what we’ll find is that when the report was drafted we were not even allowed to see the report,” said Verhonda Sercey, a regional operations director for Strand. “All of the things in the report we could have cleared up had we been allowed to actually see the report and help [Wade] uncover what she was looking for.”

Wade’s initial audit discovered several irregularities in what was recorded in the hotel’s books. One was a $600 refund for a two-night stay, in which a receipt could not be found for the charge to the customer.

“[The hotel] refunded the card in order to charge it again because [the customer] wanted to charge it on a different card,” Sercey said.

Other issues discovered in the audit were cash deposits that didn’t match receipts, untimely deposits and missing credit card receipts.

Most of the issues discovered in Wade’s audit have already been found, according to Sercey.

“[Our auditor] has uncovered three-fourths of what [Wade] said she found,” Sercey told members of the committee.

But money issues weren’t the only problems discussed during Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilwoman Susan Keith expressed concern about the public’s opinion of the hotel.

“I’ve had some people tell me they’ve had some good experiences, and I’ve heard some real horror stories,” Keith said. “There’s so much negative out there we have got to do something to turn it around. The hotel is too important to us.”

Despite being concerned with the hotel’s operations, Keith still supports the council’s original decision to hire a management company.

“I stand by the city council’s decision to hire a reputable management company. I think our plan is the right plan,” Keith said.

Others expressed their discontent with the hotel and want to get out of the business altogether.

“The hotel should be sold immediately,” said councilman Cecil Williamson. “We need to notify Strand we are terminating the contract within 60 days. We need to have a forensic audit ever since Strand took over the hotel.”

Once all the issues were laid out on the table, the committee agreed on three recommendations to the Selma City Council.

The committee recommended a forensic audit, starting the 60-day contract termination process and bringing in a local person to co-manage the hotel during the Jubilee and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma in April.

“We felt like it was time to go ahead and meet on this and move on this,” councilwoman Angela Benjamin said. “We have to keep our eye on the hotel while it is still with us, and we have to do a better job than we did in the past.”

The recommendations will go before the Selma City Council at its next meeting.