Resignations put chamber on standby

By: 
Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Newcastle Area Chamber of Commerce Director Barbie Turner and board President Sandy Martin both resigned from their respective roles on Nov. 8, hours after the duo engaged in a heated exchange with city leaders during a presentation to the Newcastle City Council.

According to a letter provided by board Vice President Garrett Borton, the resignations put the chamber in a sticky situation moving forward. The letter is addressed to chamber membership, requesting help to keep the entity alive. 

“As of this time, we have three board members: Vice President Garrett Borton, Trustee Megan Sams and Trustee James Curren. Per our bylaws, this is not enough to function as a board and the chamber will need to shut its doors by Dec. 31,” the letter says. “As a board we do not want to see this happen, and in an amicable effort to save the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce we are seeking your help and cooperation in meeting a quorum and finding a director.” 

Because of the nature of the chamber’s business, the letter states that the board feels that business owners or representatives would be the best additions to keep the entity alive. 

At this time, the letter continues, the chamber board has also postponed the annual Parade of Lights and chamber banquet until further notice. 

“The banquet has a bit of time in order to proceed with the function, but the Parade of Lights is coming up fast and could be postponed a couple of weeks,” the letter says. 

It notes that individuals interested in serving should contact a chamber representative by Nov. 23 if the organization  hopes to save this year’s Parade of Lights. 

Martin’s disapproval for the performance of various local entities — most recently the Weston County Fair Board and the News Letter Journal — has been voiced several times at public meetings over the past few months, and her displeasure was again on display during the discussion at the City Council meeting on Nov. 7.

The conversation became contentious when the topic turned to funding for the chamber and Turner’s roles and responsibilities as director. Martin and Turner abruptly left the meeting over the course of that conversation, and then announced their resignations the following morning. 

The News Letter Journal has previously reported on interactions between Turner and both the city council and Board of Weston County Commissioners regarding hours that the Newcastle Visitors Center is open. Those discussions resulted in stipulations being applied to provided funding that would require Turner to regularly be at the office, which also serves as Newcastle’s visitor center. Both entities also reduced the amount of funding provided to the chamber.

As reported in the July 28 story “Chamber’s money woes,” the city had cut the amount it funded the chamber from $13,000 to $10,000. The county reduced its funding to $2,300.

When Turner and Martin questioned the stipulation again on Nov. 7 by claiming that Turner’s time was better spent visiting businesses in the community, Councilman Tyrel Owens defended the requirement. He further suggested Turner document her time and tasks away from the office to demonstrate why the time spent away from the office is producing more value than keeping the visitor center open.

“One of the things I’m curious about, you (the chamber) get a subsidy from the city. If she (Turner) is doing so much good work away from the chamber office itself, maybe you could provide documentation. So we can see how the funds are being spent. Let us know what you are attending, who was there and the support you are drumming up,” Owens said. 

He and Mayor Pam Gualtieri both noted that they had received several comments of concern regarding the chamber’s availability and access to the visitors center. 

“I want to say, I am available to the public. If they leave a message, I call them back,” Turner said. 

Martin said that she believed the council was being petty by requesting documentation of Turner’s activities. 

“I think that is petty.  … We know what she does,” Martin said. 

Both Martin and Turner explained that they believe that Turner needed to be out visiting businesses to truly accomplish the chamber’s goals. They said that she sees very few people at the visitor’s center when she is there. 

 

To view the discussion with the City Council in its entirety, watch the video of the November 7 meeting on the NLJ’s Youtube channel.

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