More details revealed in chamber leader’s departure

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce accepted the resignation of its president and chief operations officer, Tammy Thurow, on Wednesday, April 26. Since then, the community has been buzzing about the reason for Thurow’s resignation.

This week, the Citizen spoke with Thurow and chamber officials to determine what led to the resignation and whether it really was a resignation at all.

Forced to resign?

One of the biggest questions regarding Thurow’s resignation is whether she resigned willingly. Thurow said she had been planning to resign for quite some time, saying she had two job interviews in Northwest Arkansas before resigning from the chamber. The day she resigned, Thurow said, she had already moved most of her personal items out of her office.

“I had a resignation letter prepared, and I sent it to different people in the community, so people knew I was planning on leaving,” Thurow said. “The writing was on the wall. I knew it was coming.”

Cathy Handley, chairwoman of the chamber’s board of directors, said she didn’t expect Thurow to resign the day it happened. Handley said she was meeting with Thurow about a salesperson Thurow recently hired.

“We sat down. The girl’s resume was on the desk. We noticed that everything was gone from Tammy’s office,” Handley said. “The desk was cleaned off. We were going, ‘That’s a little strange.’ ”

Thurow said chamber officials got straight to the point during the meeting.

“They said, ‘We would like you to resign.’ I said, ‘Well, as you can see, I was planning on resigning,’ ” Thurow said. “I was going to give two weeks notice, but they wanted me to go ahead and leave then.”

Handley said it didn’t happen quite like that, saying she and Thurow clashed over the salesperson Thurow wanted to hire.

“She did start shouting at us, and we just weren’t going there,” Handley said. “We couldn’t even talk about what we came to talk about, and we said, ‘This isn’t a good fit’ and she had her letter of resignation. I do believe she was planning to resign.”

Catherine Pappas, vice chair of the chamber board, said she didn’t know Thurow had been interviewing for another job. Pappas remembered the morning Thurow resigned, saying she wasn’t at the meeting until after Thurow had decided to leave the chamber. Pappas said she arrived just as Thurow was gathering the rest of her personal items. Thurow didn’t have very many items to take with her, Pappas said.

“We were coming to the meeting that day to talk about a new employee she had hired that no one knew about,” Pappas said. “[Thurow] was ready to go. She was really ready to go. That was not our intention, but it was her intention.”

Thurow said she and the chamber board agreed to say she resigned to pursue other business opportunities, saying the chamber didn’t follow through with that. Thurow said the chamber sent out a press release announcing the resignation without saying Thurow would be pursuing other business opportunities.

“They kind of disparaged me, talking about my performance. That’s what was surprising,” Thurow said. “It was disappointing. I wanted to keep things on a very professional level, and it didn’t happen that way. If they had left it where we had agreed, I don’t think there would be this big uproar.”

John Speed, second vice chair of the chamber board, said Thurow caused the uproar by going to local businesses to talk about the chamber the morning she resigned.

“The line she used to a lot of people was she got kicked off the island. That was a suggestion that she wasn’t leaving for the reasons she said,” Speed said. “I feel and felt at the time as if we were being quite delicate and generous in the way we said what we said.”

He added, “Mixed messages are being sent, and that’s not by us. I think that’s by Tammy. She asked that we say one thing, but then she immediately goes to people in town and tells them she’s been kicked off the island, that we have let her go. That is just not the way this happened.”

Mayor’s involvement

In the weeks after her resignation, Thurow said she has received support from members of the community and the chamber. One of these supporters is Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry. Berry sent an email to the chamber’s board on May 4 saying he was displeased to see Thurow go.

“I am very disappointed in the removal (however, you all want to frame it) of Tammy Thurow,” Berry says in the email. “Tammy …has been a breath of fresh air in helping with and working with the city. This is the first time since I can remember that the Chamber of Commerce and the CAPC have worked so closely together to accomplish as much as has been done.”

In the email, Berry says Thurow was in the process of helping make downtown Eureka Springs wireless and was an integral member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development.

“She has provided me with more leads and contacts for economic development (we are talking about besides Tourism) than any Chamber member,” Berry writes. “The bell cannot be unrung, but it sure appears like the Chamber keeps self-exploding. I love this city, but I keep wondering how long we will allow personalities to get before principals.”

Thurow said she enjoyed working with Berry on the economic task force, saying the work she did there may not have been obvious to the chamber.

“The thing about economic development is it’s really a quiet process, because when you’re dealing with someone, you’ve got to be quiet,” Thurow said. “It is confidential for many reasons. It really is a quiet procedure.”

Thurow said she helped bring a company near Eureka Springs, providing more jobs in the area. Berry said the way Thurow worked on economic development helped the city.

“If [the chamber wants] to pursue economic development, I thought she was doing a good job in that aspect,” Berry said. “I think [the chamber] should be in economic development and in serving the community. Their community is hospitality.”

Berry acknowledged those who have said he shouldn’t have spoken out about Thurow’s resignation but said he stands by what he wrote in the email.

“Somebody said I shouldn’t have said that …that, as mayor, I should stick to my own business of running the city,” Berry said. “Well, Tammy was one of the volunteers we use to help the economic task force, and I think she was a benefit to the city. I think she brought a lot of new energy to the city, and she was developing the chamber in a positive manner.”

Thurow said she may have clashed personally with the chamber’s executive committee, as Berry wrote in the email,

“Maybe there were personality conflicts. I’m a strong woman, and I stick by what I believe is right and know to do,” Thurow said. “I loved my job. I loved making those connections, and I was passionate about it. I really was.”

Pappas said she considers Thurow to be well-liked in Eureka Springs.

“I really feel that people like Tammy here. We never not liked her,” Pappas said. “I mean, we felt she was trying. We felt she was going out and doing what she could.”

‘Constantly challenged’

When she looks back on her time at the chamber, Thurow said she’s proud of what she accomplished. She said she implemented new software to help the chamber keep up with its members better, as well as several other programs adding new benefits for members.

“I was just trying to make things a little more relevant. They were a little behind the times. I brought them into the 21st century,” Thurow said. “I built a lot of relationships, because the chamber in the community was very hurt from the past. I got out there and visited with people and talked to them and found out what their needs were.”

It was difficult to do her job fully, Thurow said, because the chamber’s executive committee changed the rules regularly.

“One week, it’s this. This week, you’re not allowed to hire anyone without permission,” Thurow said. “It was just constant challenges. They constantly challenged my performance.”

Handley said the chamber held Thurow accountable for the people she hired.

“We gave her authority to hire her staff. Let’s be fair about this. We did,” Handley said. “But this particular person … she was told not to hire a salesperson because we do not have the money. I don’t know how much more plain you can get, and she went right there and did it.”

Pappas said the chamber pays employees using the money from its members. Because of this, Pappas said, it’s important that the money is spent properly.

“We’re all professional here, and we all have budgets to work with. When we spend other people’s money, especially money of our members, we have to be very careful where that money goes,” Pappas said, saying she spoke with Thurow about budget constraints. “The several people she hired … she never asked, and it’s not that we were micromanaging her, but we do have to micromanage that money.”

Handley said the executive committee can’t constantly change the rules, because the board meets once a month.

“Nothing that is changed or redone is ever done until the entire board is aware of it and we discuss it,” Handley said. “A lot of it is financially driven. If we’re doing things and it’s working and it’s a positive thing, we keep doing it. If it isn’t, like any business, you readjust.”

Pappas said she thinks it’s harsh for Thurow to say the executive committee challenged her performance.

“Any person in that position is going to be asked what they are doing to gain strength within the chamber, so challenging the performance could be turned around basically to saying, ‘What did you do today?’ or ‘Who did you talk to today?’ or ‘What new members do you have?’ ” Pappas said. “It wasn’t a challenge by any means. It was just really asking what her plan was.”

What’s next?

Moving forward, Thurow said she is looking for a job in Northwest Arkansas. Thurow said she will miss working in Eureka Springs, especially with some of the chamber’s members.

“Through all this, I have found out I have a lot of support. I’ve had a lot of members contact me,” Thurow said. “I’m glad, and I hope everyone will continue to work together and figure it all out.”

She added, “What they need to do is figure it all out and make it work and challenge the chamber. You should challenge your chamber to do better all the time. The best way to be involved is to participate.”

Pappas said the chamber is stronger than it’s been in a long time, saying that’s because of the people who serve on the board and all the members of the chamber.

“We have some very intelligent people who sit on this board. They’re focused on making sure things are done properly and the right way,” Pappas said.

Speed said the chamber has nothing to hide from the community.

“Our meetings are open. Our minutes are public. We have total transparency about everything that has happened and transpired,” Speed said. “I don’t think we have anything to hide.”

And when it comes to Thurow?

“We wish her well,” Speed said.

“We do wish her well,” Handley said. “We hope she finds a job and has a great life. We just really want to move forward.”

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