Seven apply for director's job with Eureka Springs chamber

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Seven candidates have applied for the director's position with the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, chamber board chairman Cathy Handley said at a board meeting Monday.

"Right now, we have about seven applicants for the director's position," Handley said during the meeting, which was held in the Pine Room at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks. "We will be interviewing those people in the month of June and see where we come with that."

The board is seeking a permanent director after Mike Bishop was fired as the chamber's president and chief executive officer on March 2.

Damon Henke, a local business owner, is currently serving as interim director.

Handley said the candidates who have applied for the director's job have a variety of backgrounds.

"They're all over the board, honestly," she said. "There are some people that have been director at the state level, people that are working with Springdale. There's some people from Branson."

Handley said the chamber has been in touch with the candidates.

"They have been contacted, so that they know there is interest," she said. "We haven't left them just hanging out there."

Bishop's sudden dismissal has created some controversy, but Handley said that hasn't affected the interest of the candidates that have been contacted by the chamber.

"They're all aware of kind of the situation, what's going on," she said. "All of them are still wanting to pursue it. What we'll do is, we'll narrow that down, and then we'll hold the first interviews, second interviews. We'll do it accordingly, do it the appropriate way. But there's some good candidates in there."

Henke seemed to indicate that he would not be a candidate for the permanent position, but said he will serve in an interim capacity as long as necessary.

"I will totally wear the interim director hat ... if that takes 10 years, I'm happy to wear it," Henke said. "Just to throw that out there so everybody's aware, the commitment level from my business and this is a challenge, and there's no way I'm going to be able to switch 100 percent to just the chamber role and that go forward."

Also at Monday's meeting, Handley confirmed that Rusty Windle, a Eureka Springs accountant, has resigned from the board. Handley said Windle cited concerns about the time commitment required by serving on the board.

The board approved Neal Watts' appointment to the board, and Handley said there are still several openings on the board.

Henke discussed the chamber's recent tourism trade show, which was held in conjunction with a membership meeting on June 1.

"The tourism trade show was an absolute success on the attraction side," Henke said. "From attendance from the hoteliers, we could've had higher attendance but we're really in the season is what I was running into. ... If we get this bumped into the first week in March, I think it's going to free everybody up to attend. They were really excited about it, too. It was fabulous to walk around the room and hear what each attraction did."

Henke said membership renewals have been slow, which he attributed to the fact that it's still early in the tourist season and many businesses are still waiting on the majority of their revenue.

"As we roll into these months and start asking for renewals we probably get 75 percent saying 'the reason I haven't paid you is we just haven't put all our finances together for the season yet or the income's really not coming in the door strong enough yet to write you the $210 check,' or whatever it might be," he said. "Then others, as we suspected, have just sat and been like 'you know what, there's a lot of turmoil with the chamber; I don't know that I was necessarily an active member,' and they hadn't been to a meeting in five years. They just coincidentally had been paying and riding it out, so those people are like 'ah, I'm not going to pay,' so we've had a bit of attrition from that."

On the flip side, Henke said the chamber is attracting new members.

"Our new member sales ... new memberships have to be up considerably because every day I go in there and (sales representative Terri Brockelman) is talking to somebody who's excited to be here, wants to be a part of the chamber and looking forward to the opportunities in Eureka Springs," he said.

In response to a question from Handley, Henke agreed that about 24 of 420 existing members didn't renew their memberships.

"It's a very small percentage," she said.

Board vice chairman Kent Butler pointed out that about 10 of the businesses that did not renew have actually closed.

"They wouldn't have renewed anyway," Handley said. "So we didn't lose that many. That's good."

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