With election completed, chamber looks to move ahead

Like a phoenix rising out of the ash, the Sequim-DungenessValley Chamber of Commerce is coming back to life. With a new board of directors in place, the organization that has weathered several storms over the past several months is finally able to move ahead.

April 24, results of a special election were posted naming eight new board members. The election, that was carried out entirely by mail, was the result of a Feb. 12 chamber of commerce meeting during which almost the entire board of directors resigned amid accusations that they had wrongfully terminated executive director Lee Lawrence's employment.

Left with only three members - Hattie Dixon, Ron Gilles and Jean Wyatt - the board elected an interim board comprised of Annette Hanson, Deborah Rambo Sinn, Mike McAleer and Walt Schubert.

"The heroes in this thing are Hattie (Dixon) and Ron Gilles because if they had quit, we would've lost our chamber of commerce, I'm convinced," Schubert said.

Schubert, who was elected the interim board's president, said he didn't want the position but when Dixon said the Irrigation Festival - a Sequim tradition for 113 years - might be in jeopardy, Schubert said he had no choice but to get involved.

"How do you say no to that? It really wasn't something I wanted to do. I was just getting to the point where I could get into my office at 7 o'clock in the morning instead of 5 like I'm back doing," Schubert said. "It's been a sort of horrendous thing to do and to finally get to this point really feels pretty good."

The interim board's vice president, real estate agent McAleer, said he would resign once a new board is in place, but Schubert plans to stay on until May, when he anticipates the chamber's revised bylaws will be adopted.

"That's part of what I said I would do when I came in and I'd like to finish that and walk away saying, 'OK, here it is, it's all done, take care of it.'"

A special committee has been appointed to review and revise the bylaws and, according to Schubert, its work is nearly complete. The proposed bylaws then will be forwarded to the board, the chamber's attorney and the membership.

"It needs to go out to membership," Schubert said, adding that he is not convinced the bylaws need to be adopted by an election but rather posted on the chamber's Web site, allowing chamber members to post comments and suggestions. "I believe with what's happened, the membership needs to be involved at this point."

Much of the strife experienced within the chamber came from a group of chamber members called the Concerned Chamber Committee, which formed after Lawrence's termination. They also took issue with the chamber's bylaws and that the chamber had not been audited in several years. Gil Simon, co-chairman and spokesman for the CCC, said that the committee was not surprised by the election results. Simon and co-chairman Ron Ferre both ran, as did other committee members, and lost. Simon pointed out that not a single chamber board member is the owner of a storefront or retail operation and he predicts that this will cause the organization to suffer.

"It's going to be difficult for them," Simon said.

According to Simon, the Concerned Chamber Committee will meet a final time, but each member will have to determine on their own whether they will stay on as chamber members.

"I think we've tried enough to work with them," Simon said, who serves on the chamber's bylaws committee.

Schubert said he has no hard feelings against the committee and places no blame. He believes that with or without the committee's involvement, the chamber would be facing the same issues regarding bylaws and finances.

"It would've happened because the bottom line to all of this is that the chamber of commerce needs to grow up," Schubert said, adding that the chamber barely has set processes and procedures for anything. "There's going to be a much stronger chamber out of this. Because of this, though, this board is going to have a lot of work ahead of itself to get those things in place."

According to Schubert, the chamber will put looking for a new executive director on the back burner until the full board is in place along with the new bylaws, a manual of procedures and rules of conduct. Schubert said he is confident in the capabilities of the new board.

"They're - every single one of them - good people," Schubert said. "I can see a lot of positive in this. I think they're going to keep it strong."

Elected to a term that will end in 2010, local developer Bill Littlejohn said he decided to run in order to bring stability to the chamber.

"I want to stabilize it. I want to turn the chamber around and maybe make it stronger," Littlejohn said, adding that he is excited and looks forward to the new challenge.

New chamber board: Those elected to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors are Bill Littlejohn, Emily Westcott, Stephen Rosales, Scott Clausen, Ron Bell, Damien Humphreys, Liz Beth Harper and Bill Thomas. They will join incumbents Hattie Dixon, Ron Gilles, Deborah Rambo Sinn, Annette Hanson, Jean Wyatt, Walt Schubert and Mike McAleer. McAleer plans to resign from his interim post immediately.

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