One by one Thursday, leaders of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce expressed their disappointment with the end of a $25,000 annual contract for services between the chamber and the town of Oro Valley.
“To us, as a board, the biggest disappointment was not the financial aspect of that contract,” outgoing chairman Paul Kappelman told the audience at the chamber’s breakfast meeting. “Our biggest disappointment was the process, and the lack of communication with the business community.”
Representatives of the chamber “were never informed, there was no communications” about the vote to end the chamber contract, Kappelman said. The decision was made “without public discussion and debate.”
New board member Lynn Ericksen of the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador expounded on the effect.
“When the economy hits, where do I start laying off?” asked Ericksen, who manages more than 630 employees at the Oro Valley resort. “When government entities turn their back on the business community, where do we start?” In a time of higher fuel and grocery prices, he suggested government “cannot turn your backs on the business community.”
“We face very significant challenges as we move forward,” new chamber board chairman Gregg Forszt said. “We have financial challenges, with losing a chunk of our funding from the town of Oro Valley. It’s a political situation, and something that’s of grave concern. We need to make sure we forward our agenda to the politicians.”
“We may have some people in elected places who are not even willing to talk with the business community,” Kappelman said.
Two council members had response to the criticism.
“All of our budget discussions were ‘agendized,’” meaning they appeared on the council’s agenda, Councilwoman Salette Latas said.
“People had the opportunity to come and speak on it, and often did,” Latas said. The chamber, in fact, “had an opportunity to sit and explain their funding request at a subcommittee of the council,” she said.
Latas has “always been willing” to speak with people in the business community. “I’m willing to talk with anybody who’s asked to meet with me or called.”
The “common theme that we’ve heard from the chamber is ‘it’s not the money,’” Councilman Bill Garner said. “I would beg to differ with them. Never have they really extended to me an olive branch to say ‘we realize we’re in a financial pickle, economic times are tough, we realize the town has made a new course or changed direction. What are we going to do to continue the partnership?’ That’s the kind of thing I didn’t hear from the chamber.
“Really, never have I had anyone from the chamber actually call me or invite me to one of their breakfasts,” Garner said. “I would love to go, field questions, give a presentation about some of my ideas. I ran on being a supporter of small business. Obviously, the chamber is a representative organization for those small business owners.”
“It’s a two-way street,” Garner said. “I’ve always been open to hearing all sides.”
“It was a wake-up call,” Kappelman said of the experience. “We need to pay attention. We can turn that into a positive.”