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The Clarion Ledger

Former managing director of Greater Jackson Arts Council says executive director misused funds

By Wicker Perlis, Mississippi Clarion Ledger,

2023-03-14

The recently fired former managing director of the Greater Jackson Arts Council in a lawsuit filed last week has accused the organization's executive director of improperly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of the charity's funds.

Jon Salem is suing the GJAC for wrongful termination, claiming that he was fired by Executive Director Silbrina Wright after raising concerns about some of her spending habits, which allegedly included a more than $110,000 trip to Walt Disney World.

Salem, who had worked for the GJAC since 1994, took on the newly created managing director position in early 2021, shortly after Wright was appointed executive director.

In a complaint filed in Rankin County Circuit Court on Friday, Salem's attorney claims that he was suspended on Aug. 1, 2022, after confrontations with Wright over what he saw as improper spending on her work-issued credit card. Multiple confrontations occurred leading up to that moment, according to the lawsuit.

Wright has not issued a response to the accusations. Neither Wright nor Salem responded to multiple requests for comment or this story.

According to the legal filing, Salem first confronted Wright over a $120,000 credit card bill that was racked up over the course of one month.

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"Specifically, Plaintiff inquired about the new charges on the July 2022 American Express Gold Card exceeding $120,000 and contrasted the average monthly carryover balance of $35,000, ultimately resulting in approximately $247,000 in unprecedented charges over a period of ten months," the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit further accuses Wright of using grant funds in order to cover some of those costs, including the Disney World trip. The funds had been given to GJAC from the City of Jackson, who received them from the Surdna Foundation, and the lawsuit alleges that Salem informed Wright that misspending such funds could prevent the city from receiving further grants.

"Plaintiff further questioned the use of Surdna Foundation grant funds to cover unrelated grant expenses and questionable expenses on the American Express Gold Card such as an unsanctioned trip to Walt Disney World in Florida that cost in excess of $110,000 and was intended to be recouped with Jackson Public Schools Funds," the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit further alleges that Wright employed family and friends as independent contractors, many of whom the suit alleges were mischaracterized and did not pay proper levels of state taxes.

Salem claims that after this initial confrontation, Wright limited his ability to access financial information and documents. By Aug. 19, Salem was fired.

"This was the first notice of termination that Plaintiff received and the facts therein were designed to show cause, when none existed. None of the allegations in the termination letter were part of Plaintiff's personnel file prior to the August 1, 2022 inciting incident," the lawsuit reads.

Salem, who is represented by attorney Scherrie Prince, is seeking "an amount in excess of $200,001" for "future wages, back pay, compensatory damages, mental and emotional pain and suffering, attorneys' fees and any other damages." The exact amount Salem is seeking will be shown at the trial, according to the lawsuit.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Former managing director of Greater Jackson Arts Council says executive director misused funds

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