HUDSON — Jeffrey Hunt was let go last week from his position as president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
“We were made aware of, on the 10th, some irregularities within the finances,” chamber Board of Directors Chairman Derick H. LaTorre said Tuesday. “It was enough that justified termination and we have to do at least an internal investigation to start to just figure out the full scope before we can determine whether there’s a criminal investigation or anything further.”
The chamber’s executive committee voted to terminate Hunt’s employment immediately Nov. 10, and its board unanimously supported the action Nov. 12.
“I agree to the separation,” Hunt said Tuesday.
Hunt added he takes responsibility for communication issues leading up to his split from the chamber.
“There were some communication missteps on my part and I own up to it,” Hunt said.
He did not specify the origins of the communication missteps.
An internal investigation is being conducted by LaTorre, chamber Treasurer Matthew Mackerer and corporate counsel Matt Griesemer, LaTorre said Tuesday afternoon.
Criminal charges are not being considered as of Tuesday, he said.
The irregularities were occurring over at least the past year, LaTorre said.
LaTorre, Mackerer and Griesemer, who were not specific regarding the financial irregularities, are investigating to determine the depth of the spending inconsistencies, he added.
“Right now, it looks like there were funds used that weren’t necessarily authorized, so that’s the irregularity and what we’re trying to determine at what level that is,” LaTorre said.
They are determining how much money spent was authorized and how much was not, he added.
LaTorre would not comment on the amount of money at stake.
“I can’t comment on that at the moment until we do the investigation,” LaTorre said.
Funds are authorized, according to the chamber’s annual operating budget, and approved by the board of directors, which serves as a framework for expenses, LaTorre said.
“We’re kind of in the midst of trying to determine the full nature of it,” he added.
Hunt planned on working at the chamber for four to five years and had been there four-and-a-half years, he said.
“I think it was time for a change for me,” Hunt added.
He did not say what his next steps will be.
“I think the chamber is in a stronger place today than it was when I started and I have nothing discouraging to say about individual board members or the chamber itself,” Hunt said. “The organization is a wonderful organization and it will continue to grow and strive.”
While the board plans to fill Hunt’s position, it does not have a hiring timeline set to hire a new president and CEO, LaTorre said.
“It’s so fresh at the moment that I don’t have a timeline yet,” LaTorre added.
Office manager Amy Kneller will handle the chamber’s functions in the interim, he said.
“She is well equipped to continue to handle the functions of the chamber in the interim while we conduct our investigation and ultimately the board of directors will oversee the direction of the organization and, you know, at some point we will work to put together a framework so that we can fill this role,” LaTorre said.
Kneller declined to comment.
“I offered to continue to work for them through a transition to a new leader and continue helping them with new programming that we were planning for 2021,” Hunt said.
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murrell said he was not aware of the circumstances surrounding Hunt’s termination.
“I really don’t know anything about it,” Murrell said. “I really don’t know what the circumstances are. Columbia County doesn’t really have any oversight over the Chamber of Commerce.
Columbia Economic Development Corporation President and CEO F. Michael Tucker declined to comment because he did not know enough about the situation.
Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson also declined to comment, saying he did not know much about what led up to Hunt’s exit from the chamber, adding he has not worked with Hunt.
Hunt’s mother is the only person he told about his termination, he said, but he has been getting calls since the weekend about it.
The chamber emailed its members about the termination Monday.
“I think that the chamber members are great and that the organization has tremendous plans in 2021 to continue to help businesses in this global pandemic and that’s what we spent most of the last six months doing, was preparing for life after COVID, life during COVID,” Hunt said.