City audit clears cutting horse group in trust fund investigation

Posted Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A headline on the website of the National Cutting Horse Association states that Fort Worth city auditors have cleared the group regarding controversial payments from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund.

Well, maybe. But it's not the whole story.

The Feb. 21 letter from City Auditor Darlene Allen says that an economic impact study by former Texas Christian University Professor Jerry Grotta made a mathematical error that inflated the number of cutters competing in a 2008 event, the Summer Spectacular. That study, used by the city in an application on the NCHA's behalf, helped land money from the state fund.

There was no evidence that the cutters themselves intentionally fudged the numbers to obtain higher event funding, Allen said in the letter to NCHA Executive Director Ernie Beutenmiller.

That was one of four allegations it said were raised by a former employee, an apparent reference to Beutenmiller's predecessor, Alan Steen, who resigned in August after just seven weeks on the job. He then sued the group. Steen later settled out of court but said he stands by his allegations.

Although a disgruntled ex-employee, Steen's claims carried weight because of his career in law enforcement. He had been administrator of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission before joining the Fort Worth-based association.

The city auditor also refuted an allegation that bonuses paid to NCHA employees were tied to METF funding levels. And it said that a lightning strike actually did destroy some of association's financial data, a proposition Steen apparently found hard to believe.

As for the allegation that the NCHA might have received $250,000 with the help of inflated entry figures, Allen said the group has hired an external audit firm to recalculate all the applications affected. It seems Grotta had 1,132 too many people competing at the 2008 event, and that the overstated figure was used in calculations for applications in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Grotta did not return our phone call.

"Should any over-distribution [of funds] be identified through the process, the NCHA states it will repay any financial obligation to the State and/or the City of Fort Worth," said Allen. Lauren Willis of the Texas state comptroller's office, which oversees the event fund, told us that the state will consider its options once it sees the recalculated applications and finally learn just how much it dished out in error, if any.

The mess comes at a time when the taxpayer-supported fund is under scrutiny by legislators for questionable grants and as the cutters deal with their own deep, internal rifts.

Worthington National

offering mortgages

When JPMorgan Chase announced earlier this week that it planned thousands of job cuts in mortgage-related jobs, it was only the latest in an exodus of home lenders from the market.

So it only makes sense that Worthington National Bank, which has branches in Arlington, Colleyville and Fort Worth, would find this the right time to get into the business.

Worthington said it has hired Susan Williams as its mortgage loan officer, and Worthington CEO Greg Morse said he expects the community bank to do at least $30 million in home loans this year.

"Interest rates are at an all-time low. Foreclosures are receding, lot inventories are low, new home sales are up and there's fewer new homes on the market," Morse said.

What's not to like?

Morse said the bank, which had $178 million in assets and $124 million in net loans at year's end, has seen "a very good uptick" in loan demand from both personal and business borrowers the past two months. So he feels the area economy will support growing home sales and mortgage demand.

The big banks that have been announcing job cuts in mortgage services have cited the declining need for homeowner counseling and loan modifications as a cause. But Morse used the announcement to tweak the nation's largest lenders, as he likes to do.

"Show me one company that reduced personnel and increased customer service," he said. "We compete on customer service."

Balcom Agency cleans

up at Addy Awards

The Balcom Agency in Fort Worth was the top winner in the recent American Advertising Federation -- Fort Worth Addy Awards, not only winning the most awards, but also the Best of Show honors.

Balcom received 38 total awards, including 12 Gold, eight Silver and 18 Bronze Addys, as well as the Best of Show in the print category.

The agency was followed by Concussion in Fort Worth, winning 32 awards including eight Gold, 11 Silver and 13 Bronze, as well as Best Thinking Out of the Box and two Special Judges Awards.

GCG Advertising in Fort Worth received the third most awards, 21, including nine Gold, six Silver and six Bronze honors, and a Special Judges Award for Best Screen Printing for the Big Screen.

Texas Christian University won a Special Judges Award for Best of Show in the interactive category, The Starr Conspiracy won a Special Judges Award, and The Eppstein Group won Best of Show in the broadcast category.

Also winning Gold Addys were Skyline DFW Exhibits & Events, Studio 121, Brian Pierce Marketing, Hutson Creative Group, Immotion Studios, Red Productions and Ride For the Brand agencies.

In all, 174 Gold, Silver and Bronze Addys were handed out to 26 agencies and companies.

The local competition is the first tier of a national three-tier industry competition that honors the best in creative advertising. Local Gold award winners now compete in the District 10 AAF Addy competition in Tulsa in April. District Gold winners advance to the prestigious national AAF competition in Phoenix in June.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

sabaker@star-telegram.com

Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552

jfuquay@star-telegram.com

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

barry@star-telegram.com

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