Chamber, in disarray, clearly needs help – from community

To say that the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce is in disarray is an understatement.

Our report on page 1, written after numerous interviews and careful review of many pages of documents, paints a picture of what, to put it bluntly, can only be described as the result of lack of continuity in personnel both in chamber staff and on the Board of Directors, poor communication, lack of training, sloppy record- and bookkeeping, and poor support from the community.

It’s a pretty sorry picture. The chamber has not been strong since the days when larger corporations and timber companies provided staff and money to bolster its efforts. People worked in Sweet Home and shopped here, so there were businesses serving their needs. All of this contributed to a strong chamber in terms of finances and personnel.

A chamber of commerce is supposed to be a community leader, an advocate and supporter for the business community, a sponsor and organizer of community events, a robust reflection of what the community stands for.

That’s not where we are with Sweet Home’s chamber. It needs help.

For those who have been paying attention, it should come as no surprise that the organization is struggling. It’s had repeated turnover of staff and board members for too many years to count. Probably as a result of the turnover, its record-keeping is, we’re told, in shambles. It has been “administratively dissolved” by the state as a nonprofit – not the first time, we’ve learned – and it’s in arrears, as far as its record-keeping is concerned, with the IRS.

The current manager, previously the bookkeeper, finds herself in the position of needing to be all things to all people – which is not uncommon for managers at the Sweet Home chamber, many of whom have been required to do things outside their skill sets. They generally do not stay long either.

It’s, as disgusted participants put it in our report, “a train wreck.”

Really, every organization’s personality starts with its board because that’s to whom management should be accountable and that’s where policies and procedures are supposed to be set. It’s pretty apparent that hasn’t been happening with the Sweet Home chamber – not to the extent it needs to.

Before we go any further, we want to make clear that this isn’t intended as a wholesale indictment of the current board, who are about half the size they should be, personnel-wise and have thrown themselves into the breach to try to keep this thing going.

The fact that there are no current business owners on the board, at least after the resignation of two of the most recent people (who thought they were board members), pretty much tells us all we need to know. This is a business organization without many active business people in its leadership.

That the board meets once a month with these glaring problems hovering about tells us more than enough.

It’s pretty obvious also that communication has not been effective in the sequence of events that led to the resignations of the three newest arrivals on the board. Blame could be spread around, but that’s not the point here.

Some of the issues certainly appear to have some legitimacy – questions about the validity of the appointments of those members and the lack of effective communication regarding the meeting called to discuss those and other complications that had arisen.

The fact that newly appointed members’ standing was suddenly questioned and they were barred from a meeting of their colleagues is a bit mind-boggling, from the standpoint of orderly governance.

Frankly, a lot of the problems described in our story probably could have been avoided through greater awareness and better communication among board members and those serving the chamber in various capacities. But that gets back to the original problem: a lack of people to perform those functions.

If the chamber is going to survive, it needs significant representation from the people it is supposed to be serving – business owners or management personnel – to step up and provide the bulk of the board membership needed to lead the organization.

Board members should undergo some basic training so they know what they are supposed to do, how the board should function and how they should proceed with their responsibilities. Those include monitoring finances, setting policy for the director, helping with strategic and event planning, playing a role in fund-raising and community outreach, etc.

A quick Google search provides a wealth of materials, all free, that can provide exactly that instruction for incoming board members.

More training for staff is needed. It would vary, obviously, based on the people and what their skill sets are. But it’s unreasonable to ask one person to do everything. Responsibilities should be spread so that one person is not juggling too many balls.

An executive director, for instance, really shouldn’t be doing the day-to-day, line-by-line bookkeeping. She/he should be consumed enough by outreach, fund-raising, event planning and coordination, communication and cooperation with other event planners in town. She/he should be busy interacting with the membership. That would do wonders toward developing a healthy chamber.

Clearly, bookkeeping and finances needs to be straightened out. Record-keeping and filings need to be updated. The current board needs to determine which bylaws govern the organization, since there seems to be some confusion regarding that.

The board needs to take an active role to ensure that communication is effective and things are clicking smoothly with organizations such as the Parade Committee and the Sportsman’s Holiday Court organizers, who should really be operating under the chamber’s umbrella.

So we need trained people, and that costs money.

Can this happen? That’s the question that will need to be answered in the coming days.

Meanwhile, folks on all sides can start showing by some grace and patience, perhaps giving others the benefit of the doubt as we work through this, taking one for the team.

Clearly, some of the players in this drama are beleaguered; and if communication isn’t what it should be, well, that’s understandable and maybe even forgivable.

Ultimately, the general membership needs to get involved – pronto.

The annual membership meeting will be set for November, but if that isn’t the right place, 5 percent of the membership – six or seven people – can call a general meeting and it needs to happen.

Chamber members need to get this thing straightened out.