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East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank to elect five new board members, review financials

After encouraging 10News to attend its annual meeting, board president Mike Vudragovich later requested reporters not to attend.

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — The East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank will elect five new directors to its board Friday night, board president Mike Vudragovich told 10News.

"I encourage you to attend the entire meeting, as this will provide you with a realistic picture of the work of the eye bank and its impact on the communities and residents of East Tennessee," he wrote in an email Wednesday evening. "The purpose of the meeting is to elect five directors to the board and hear reports of the activities and financial condition of the ETLEB."

He explicitly banned WBIR reporters from bringing a camera or recording the meeting in any capacity. 

The East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank has helped restore sight for thousands of people in recent years. It's also drawn scrutiny for its leaders' six-figure compensation and conflicts of interest. 

The nonprofit paid longtime leader Valerie Stewart roughly $445,000 in total compensation in the 2019 fiscal year, according to documents provided by the Internal Revenue Service.

That's about $1 for every $5 in the ETLEB's total revenue reported that year.

It also paid Stewart's daughter, Laura Gilleran, roughly $137,000 that same year. 

The ETLEB's annual meeting is the start of the Lions District 12-N Convention. We asked for the Lions' permission to record and Vudragovich responded. 

"Based on advice from legal counsel we request that Grace King nor any other staff from WBIR attend the annual meeting of the East Tennessee Lions Eye Bank," he wrote on Thursday. "Thank you for your interest in the organization. Possibly in the future we could meet and establish a healthier dynamic."

If you attend Friday night's meeting and feel comfortable sharing what happened with 10News, you can email iteam@wbir.com.

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