The reconstituted Etowah County Mega Sports Complex board met for the first time on Monday and chose two of its officers.
Hugh Stump, director of Greater Gadsden Tourism and the Etowah County Tourism Board, was elected chairman and attorney Misty Sosebee Ledbetter was elected vice chair.
“I’ve been watching this project since the day Craig Ford (who introduced the original legislation establishing the project) announced it at Gadsden High School,” Stump said. “I’ve tried to be as involved as I can.
“The tourism board is eager to help this project,” he said. “We have a lot of experience; we have a lot of community partners and stakeholders, and statewide and regional organizations we have connections to. We have a great track record.
“We need somebody that has the time, and I have the time to do it, it’s going to be almost a full-time job,” Stump said. “I have a flexible schedule that I can do it, and the tourism board will allow me to work the hours I need to be made available on the complex. “
Any other positions, such as secretary or treasurer, will be filled at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Oct. 20.
Stump and Ledbetter are new members of the board, whose previous incarnation ceased to exist on Saturday thanks to amended legislation passed earlier this year that followed a 2021 court fight over a proposed bond issue for the project, which is nearing the finish line after an assortment of roadblocks and delays.
Indications were given that the complex is a month and a half, or even less, from completion, although the first soccer tournaments on its six fields won’t take place until early 2023.
The amended statute, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, in the Senate and Reps. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gadsden, and Gil Isbell, R-Gadsden, in the House changed the way board members are appointed and caps their number at seven.
Each member of Etowah County’s legislative delegation gets an appointment, as does Stump in his role as tourism director, the president of The Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County and the Rainbow City Council (the complex is located in Rainbow City).
Stump appointed himself to the board and also made the temporary appointment of soccer veteran Dennis Davis. That was allowed under the new statute since the District 29 House seat is vacant. Mark Gidley, R-Gadsden, who will officially become the district’s representative in November, will then appoint Davis to a full term.
Ledbetter, who has a background in working with nonprofits, was appointed by Jones and the two holdovers on the board, Hugh Miller and Randy Vice, by Isbell and the Rainbow City Council, respectively.
Miller has been the authority’s treasurer since its inception; Vice is a member of the Rainbow City Council and longtime soccer coach at Southside High School.
Another soccer veteran, Chris Russell, was appointed by Lipscomb. This will be his second stint on the board; he was one of the original members.
Chamber President Christi Robinson represented the group at Monday’s meeting, but doesn’t plan to serve on the board full time. She said a commitment is being sought from a couple of potential candidates and she expects to have the position filled in a week or so.
There was discussion involving both members and legislators — Gidley, Isbell, Jones and Lipscomb attended the meeting — as to whether the election of officers should proceed until The Chamber’s representative was actually known and seated, but a motion to proceed was made, seconded and passed.
Miller asked if waiting for clarity from The Chamber might ensure a better, more complete pool of candidates, and noted that he could continue to fill the treasurer’s role for now and they could “continue to operate as a board” and “fulfill our obligations to our vendors” without any interruption in the project if there was a delay in choosing officers.
However, Lipscomb and Ledbetter noted that under the amended legislation, previous board memberships were eliminated so, effectively, there was neither a functioning board nor officers in place.
Stump was the only candidate proposed for chairman. Ledbetter won a vote with Vice for vice chairman. A decision was made to wait on further elections until some clarity could be obtained on the authority’s existing bylaws.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Stump said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’ve got some really good things in place. We’ve got some people with strong backgrounds, and we’ve got an opportunity to move a lot quicker than we did in the past.”
Attorney Emily Hawk Mills, who has experience in dealing with boards created by statute, conducted the meeting until Stump’s election as chairman, and covered the changes in the amended legislation, both on the responsibilities of members (attendance requirements and the like) and, most significantly, the board’s two priorities: paying debts and performing financial audits.
Jones and Stump challenged the bond issue attempt over questions about the project’s finances, and there were also questions about the division of county lodging tax revenue between the sports complex and tourism boards.
Moving forward, the tourism board will receive the first $500,000 in lodging tax proceeds; after that they’ll be divided equally with the complex. Also, the amended legislation says any additional revenue from state or local taxes must go first to pay debts. Leftover funds will be held in the county treasury, and cannot be used without unanimous consent of the legislative delegation.
The legislation requires an immediate audit, then a biennial one, performed by a licensed, independent CPA chosen from three auditing firms nominated by the Rainbow City Council.
Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor, who also attended Monday’s meeting, said that list is likely to be finalized at the council’s work session next week.