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After the Lake Almanor Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau closed its business meetings to the public effective Jan. 9, chamber members began questioning what the nonprofit was hiding.
In a revision to its regular board meeting announcement on the chamber’s website, office manager Kim James explained how meetings will be conducted going forward.
According to the announcement, chamber directors voted unanimously Jan. 9 to “run the business portion of its monthly board of directors’ meetings in closed session.”
The directors will continue meeting on the second Wednesday of every month, starting at noon.
As a way for community members outside of the board to take part in chamber discussion, open forum will be conducted following each meeting, at approximately 1:30 p.m.
The chamber requested that anyone interested in attending open forum contact them in advance to request a seat.
Those who have something to present to the board are required to give eight days notice in order to be added to the agenda.
According to the chamber website “The chamber manager will communicate with you as to when you should arrive and approximately how long will be devoted to your discussion,” The chamber’s online response went on to explain the reasons for the abrupt decision to review agenda items behind closed doors.
The response stated that in order to run efficient meetings, “directors need to feel they can have open and honest discourse with other directors, whether establishing policy or making decisions.”
“This openness can only be achieved when one feels free to voice his/her opinion without fear of being quoted or having words taken out of context.”
Members speak out
Despite the explanation posted on the chambers website, members said they were still concerned and confused about the actions taken by the elected chamber board.
The purpose of a chamber is to advocate on behalf of those in the business community who are registered members.
According to its mission statement, “the chamber acts as a concerted ‘voice’ of businesses to promote and protect the interests of businesses and the community at large.”
The move to closed meetings has chamber members concerned about how much of a “voice” the chamber can have on their behalf if they are not allowed to attend the meetings.
Chamber member, and co-owner of Books & Beyond, Dawn Gray said, “As a member, I was disappointed to hear the board meetings are now closed. The business of the chamber and its board activities should be open to its membership.”
Chamber member Brenda Lemons, owner/manager of The Coffee Station, said, “Although I probably wouldn’t be attending board meetings if they were open, it does leave me questioning what’s going on behind closed doors that they would be trying to hide.”
Lemons admitted that she was close to canceling her membership last year because of the lack of helpful hands at the visitors bureau. She said the only reason she renewed it was because she has received business from exposure through the chamber’s website.
She said since her business is only five doors away from the chamber, she and her employee Mary Austin have often been witness to unfriendly responses to visitors trying to obtain information from the visitors bureau.
She recalled a particular incident when the bureau was closed during one of the busiest tourist days of the year: July 3.
“Mary saw five people inside the chamber stuffing envelopes,” Lemons said. “There were tons of people who went to the chamber looking for registration forms (for the Chester Classic 5K Fun Run) but no one would unlock the door. Someone inside was yelling through the window that it was not their event so they didn’t have forms.”
She said when the event was being planned, she remembered one of the volunteers had attempted to drop off registration forms with the chamber but they refused to take them since it was not a chamber-sponsored event.
Lemons said that since the chamber is rarely open, The Coffee Station gets a lot of tourists asking for information on where to go and what to do. Austin said she keeps maps on hand and is ready and willing to help anyone asking for it.
“The visitors bureau is not people-friendly. Mary and I do not feel they are treating people with ‘open doors’ and a willingness to recommend things to do in the area,” said Lemons.
Although Chuck Elliot, owner of Bodfish Bicycles, is not a current due-paying chamber member, he has been included in the membership in the past. He said in 20 years of business, he hasn’t seen much of an advantage to the chamber services. When he does pay his dues, however, it is because he is “just trying to support the chamber and be a team player.”
Barbara MacArthur, chamber member through Feather River Fine Arts, said, “Oh dear. I do not see what purpose closing its meetings to the public would serve. It seems curious. It certainly arouses your curiosity and makes you wonder, ‘What is this about, what is it for?’”
Attempts to seek comment from chamber directors have been unsuccessful. As of this writing, the only explanation for the closed sessions is the one found on the chamber website.
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