BirchBay chamber hits rough patch

Published on Thu, Aug 19, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Birch Bay chamber hits rough patch

By Jack Kintner

President Nick Jerns and director Ruth Lauman resigned their positions with the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce at the chamber’s general membership lunch meeting Tuesday, August 17 at Stephani’s.
This continues an exodus of leadership from the chamber’s executive committee that as been going on since at least last fall. Of the nine directors serving at that time, four of whom are chamber officers, only three remain, including vice-president Mike Harward, who becomes president on Jerns’s resignation and directors Bob Aitkens and Jim Trull.

Aside from Jerns and Lauman, Directors Karl King and Josh Lehman, secretary Cheryl Ryan and treasurer Liz Bell have all resigned within the past year. Patti Nichols was elected treasurer from the general membership following Bell’s resignation and, in Harward’s absence, ran Tuesday’s meeting. Genée Haws Kay, whose first name is pronounced to rhyme with the name Renee, was elected secretary last month.

In his letter of resignation, Jerns said that his decision was “not based on the recent actions of a few chamber members but is a personal decision based upon my need to focus more attention on my family’s needs.”

Jerns was unavailable for comment, but according to Nichols the phrase “recent actions of a few” referred to an incident last week in which the chamber backed out of an agreement with the Silver Reef Casino.

Nichols said that “to bring more people into Birch Bay we need bigger
events that cost money, and instead of going to the same people all the time why not go ahead and get some sponsorship from outside sources? We’re always going to the same merchants for donations and support, and that limits what we can do.”

The Casino, operated by the Lummi Nation, offered to donate 500 salmon dinners that were to have been cooked by Stephani’s restaurant and sold at the weekend Sand Sculpture Contest set for August 28th. Proceeds from dinner sales would have benefited the chamber.

“But this was canceled because of a small but highly vocal minority, people who said things like it was inappropriate adult entertainment for Birch Bay,” said Nichols, “so we lost an opportunity to work with a major area business.”

“Actually, there were a lot of people against it,” said King, “the problem was that the leadership went ahead with this thing without checking in adequately with the membership. People felt railroaded.”
King said that the decision to have cash rewards for the sculpture competition was also done without enough consultation. “In other places these contests have gotten so big that there’s not much room for locals,” King said, “but the decision was made to do this here as well, again without a lot of discussion.”

Jerns cited the chamber’s web site, rising bank balance and membership level as achievements, but expressed disappointment in not building a planned Birch Bay Visitors Center that he’d been working toward.

“Corporate sponsorship was in the process of helping that dream come to fruition at little or no cost to the chamber. However, as this project began to move forward it was made painfully clear that some members were not in support of this project for various reasons,” his letter stated.

Earl Ball, a Boeing engineer who came north 17 years ago and bought
Bayview RV Park on Jackson Road, has served the chamber in several different capacities, often as president. He said he felt one difficulty with the present chamber has been that it’s “drifted away from supporting businesses to being more of a social organization.”
Ball cited such chamber involvements as the Student Ambassador Committee, “which might be all right,” he said, “but what does it have to do with business?”

“These people would bring in speakers, sometimes environmentalists and people like that. But we need business people talking about business topics,” Ball said.

The chamber will meet next on September 21 at Stephani’s. The program will be devoted to a discussion of where the chamber is now and where it should be going, according to Nichols.