CFN – It was a cold wintry night when my partner Reg Coffey phoned me. He was a bit upset that the South Stormont Chamber of Commerce was about to fold.
Having been a long time board member he’d watched the chamber wither for a number of reasons.
As we had our new newspaper, the South Stormont News about to go live, and because of the positive experience I’d had in the community I said.
Not going to happen. Reg had shared how the board had elected, not himself, to donate most of what was left of the treasury to charity, and that there had been talk of rolling the chamber into the Cornwall Chamber which also was anathema to me as the Cornwall Chamber is…well…unproductive would be putting it in positive spin.
So I attended a meeting at Bob Copeland’s residence; the president of the Chamber. Reg was outside. He was told I wasn’t welcome in Bob’s home which is fine. That was Bob and his fair lady Linda Halliday’s choice.
I knocked on the door and explained that his decision was his own; but that we could move the meeting to a nearby restaurant as I was in fact a member of the Chamber for CFN.
I was admitted and it was positive. There was hope and it was decided to rebuild the chamber. Bob announced he was stepping down as did another Negative Nelly in Leslie O’Gorman.
At the next meeting there were enough people there to elect a board. Essentially almost everyone there became a board member!
As is the case in many small town groups we had a couple of “Alpha’s” in our midst. In this case Donna Primeau who runs a video store in the Long Sault strip mall, and Kim Stewart who owns Stokefire ( a little shop that sorta copies Laura’s in Cornwall) became President and Vice-President.
I put a motion that was carried that would encourage membership by discounting the cost, and we shortly had over 25 members; but there was sadly a sinister undertone that led to a sad chain of events that have divided a community; and sadly many of those events have been triggered by mistruths.
It started mildly, with Donna and Kim jumping into committees that they were not in charge of. Giving media statements out of turn. For example I was working on rebuilding the Trade Show and the next thing I knew Donna was giving out statements to media about our plans when there were in fact no plans other than I was hoping to get one out for 2014. I have run over 200 events in the past and knew a little bit about how to put together an event.
The girls focused on this utterly silly program called “Shift 10” which I wrote about after reading a media story about it that they interviewed for. Apparently they took it very personally and started a vendetta of sorts.
Anyone in marketing knows that if you have to explain your slogan you’ve added an extra layer of cost and resources.
Their concept, that Kim had read about from the US, instead of focusing on the real reasons to shop local; simply in a passive aggressive fashion asked consumers to spend 10% of their purchases locally.
Reg was working on redoing our by laws. At one meeting he’d presented a draft; but nobody had bothered to read it so it had to be put off to the next meeting. At that meeting Donna and Kim had presented a new set of by laws from a neighboring region.
There was a big push to all of the sudden get through these new by laws chiefly because they demanded that anyone running for office or elected would have to step down from the board. Reg and I had already both declared ourselves for office; himself as councilor in South Stormont, and myself for mayor of nearby Cornwall.
It was very apparent there was an agenda at this point. Our Treasurer, Connie Charlebois actually blurted out angrily that if I had any decency I’d step down from the board.
At the end of the day it was decided to keep this element in our new by laws, but have it not count against anyone already having declared. IE Reg and I were grand-fathered in. Donna is rumoured to be about to run for council herself as well, but is undeclared as of print time.
I think what was most frustrating for myself and a few others was the clear lack of understanding of how boards work and the roles of the executive. What was more frustrating than that was the attitude of Donna, Kim, Connie, and Carol Delorme as they seemed to have taken the issues very very personally.
The Chamber of Commerce has a very clear mandate, but obviously these people were not interested in that mandate, and less and less people would actually show up at meetings.
I recently lost a friend to a heart attack and attended the meeting instead of staying home. I’d told Reg that I just wanted to sit and get through without any grief; but this group was relentless in its unprofessional behavior and abuse of office and our charter.
This climaxed at the last meeting of our term in June. The minutes had been emailed to the membership with gross errors in them.
At the meeting I brought this up and it was agreed that new minutes would be sent and an apology issued as the ones sent slagged myself and Reg.
There was a protest that ended up with an adjournment of the meeting as I brought my camera to the meeting and turned it on to record the events. As I’d explained, with the minutes being sent the way they were I had to protect myself and the interests of the chamber.
At a previous meeting they passed a motion that clearly wasn’t legal and wouldn’t pass the sniff test if put to it stating that only the secretary could record.
June was our last meeting of this term. July had no meeting and August was our AGM which meant that the board would step down and new elections were to be held.
The girls decided to call a snap special meeting to “review” the memberships of both Reg and myself. It was completely out of order and simply not covered in our by laws. A reminder was sent out a few days later now stating that the meeting was to expel Reg and I from the board even though there were no meetings until the AGM and elections of a new board.
That was applicable if in order; but the notice was only given with four days notice and not ten. There was no agenda. It was all simply a strange trip.
The meeting itself was short and weird. I brought my camera and stated that I would not turn it on as long as the meeting stayed in order; again to factually document what was said and to protect myself and the chamber. When it went out of order I turned it on. Donna actually left the meeting and called the OPP who showed up very quickly.
It was very bizarre and I felt bad for the officers. Because of my false police charges currently, and because I still am under a keep the peace order I elected to comply and leave instead of stand my ground which I’d normally do.
I’d asked for a recorded vote and the secretary has refused to tender the results of that vote, and who had tendered proxies for the meeting.
It’s a sad ending to what should have been a great first year of renewal for the chamber.
I’m proud of my contributions, but sad that our group failed to do what chambers do. For example when the Township posted a notice about the Deputy Mayor attacking local business; which in this case was the South Stormont News, Donna and the board refused to issue a statement of support for council.
The Chamber did not hold an All Candidates Debate for South Stormont in the Provincial Election.
And of course the Chamber refused to work with SSN. As a matter of fact, Donna as President actually had a petition to kill our advertising deal with the Township in her store!
This leaves the Chamber’s future in the balance. Will it fold into the Cornwall Chamber as Dave Smith; another Council candidate and former owner of Grumpy’s wanted to do? After all he’d had meetings with Cornwall Chamber director Lezlie Strasser.
Will the fractures caused by Ms Primeau, Stewart, Delorme, and Charlebois be repairable?
The simplest action would be for myself to step down from the chamber as a member and honestly that’s my emotional gut reaction; but then on that cold wintry night the reasons to save the chamber still exist.
Poor South Stormont News sadly was born in a circle of lies and rumors. The public has been told that we’d asked for loans and start up grants. We never verbally or in any other fashion ever asked for anything other than the township to publish the bulletin locally in a local newspaper. We offered them a 20% discount to do so.
Yet a group knocking at doors and attending events asks people to sign a petition sometimes claiming that taxes will go up 10% because of our ad deal with the township.
The Deputy Mayor’s false memo has caused a lot of damage to the community and as those lies have spread damage to our business. (South Stormont News is a separate business entity from CFN) The Chamber’s odd behavior simply shadows it.
And the ultimate irony is that both Ms Stewart and Primeau refused to support our Celebrate South Stormont program on CFN which gave discounted advertising to businesses in South Stormont and was sponsored by the Township.
The cost for merchants was discounted to $100 for the year; less than the cost of a display ad for a single entry in area media.
Ms Primeau also campaigned to kill our media sponsorship of the Long Sault Farmer’s Market which we were very happy to have helped get off the ground these last few years. Reg Coffey’s weekly pieces during the season were very well received and very well read. How this helps the market only Ms Primeau can explain….
What will happen to the Chamber of Commerce in South Stormont only time will tell. In the meanwhile this snapshot of petty small town politics is a stain on a fine community that hopefully will be addressed soon.
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