Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chamber Building - Sell or Keep

I hadn't read the short article in this week's The Woodstock Independent (TWI), when I published the results of a recent survey of reader opinion about the consideration being given to peddling the building purchased in 1987 for the headquarters of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce.

The TWI article (August 12, 2009) reports that current Chamber President Rebecca Stiemke has been contacted by one person who is interested in purchasing the Chamber's building, located at 136 Cass Street. Presumably, this would be the same person who got the ball rolling and whose "interest" resulted in the general membership call and meeting.

Somebody could pick up the building at "Fire Sale" pricing and walk away with a really sweet deal. Is the Chamber membership going to allow that to happen? Then Chamber then effectively becomes "homeless." This should never be allowed to happen.

What kind of disaster is looming for the Woodstock Chamber as a result of the extreme financial irresponsibility of previous Boards of Directors? Why didn't previous Boards inform the membership that they were fast going in the wrong direction on the building's mortgage? The original mortgage of $87,500, instead of going down since 1987, has grown to $188,000.

As a past member of four chambers and as a former employee of four chambers, all larger, I am appalled by the decisions and actions of the Boards.

Members of recent Boards had to be aware of the looming debt. Focus should have been on increasing membership and membership services and on reducing costs. They should haved insisted on results - Results - during the past six years. Apparently, the Boards did not require such business-like actions. Members have told me of their difficulty in learning the financial position of the chamber in recent years.

During the one very disappointing year of my own membership, I raised questions about membership services. I also questioned that the Executive Director could be appointed Secretary of the Chamber; it turned out that, legally, he could not. There was a minor pesky condition in the By-Laws that the Secretary had to be a business member.

And then I pointed out to the Board that the position of Treasurer could not, under the By-Laws, be held by Tim Clifton, Woodstock's City Manager. I had no quarrel with Tim over the duties of Treasurer that he performed. It was great that the City of Woodstock was willing to take on that role.

The only problem was that the By-Laws didn't allow it. So, no matter how fine a job Tim did being Treasurer, he wasn't eligible to be the Chamber's Treasurer.

Did he point out, year-after-year, the increasing peril of the Chamber's financial position? Why did the Boards bury it?

Letting 26 members decide the fate of the Chamber's building is the wrong decision. The Board should embark on a serious effort to keep its building AND on a program to get it paid off.

Nothing has been said yet about the Board's efforts to hire a new Executive Director, after the current employee leaves in two weeks. What's happening with that position?

The Woodstock Chamber has an incredible and qualified potential Executive Director right under its nose. If the Chamber is to be saved, they had better start thinking "outside the Square" and really fast.

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