Chamber voting in question


Should Haines Chamber of Commerce members that are nonprofit organizations get to participate in votes taken by the group?

Under the organization’s bylaws adopted in 2008, only “business members” of the group are eligible to vote.

Currently, the wording of who qualifies as a business member is vague. It includes any “association, corporation, partnership, government entity or estate having an interest in the objectives of this organization.”

The mission of the chamber includes “to promote economic growth that contributes to the local quality of life.”

All members were eligible to vote in an election of chamber board members that closed Dec. 14, but that may not be the case in the future.

Current board members, including president Kyle Gray, favor a change of bylaws to limit voting and board membership to for-profit businesses. The board met late last year to finalize a draft bylaw revision that would address the change. The changes must be approved by the group’s membership.

“We want to have a broad, diverse organization, but we’re here to represent for-profit businesses,” Gray said. “We’re not against nonprofits being members, but we want to make sure for-profits always have their voice heard. Our mission is to create an environment where businesses succeed. That’s what we do.”

Gray said he would not support designating a seat on the board for nonprofits but he would favor offering chamber membership to nonprofits at a rate less than the $100 minimum that members pay.

Carol Tuynman, creative director of the nonprofit Alaska Arts Confluence, waged a write-in campaign in last year’s board election to raise attention to the issue. She was elected, but said this week she’s not sure she’ll be able to serve.

Board members who will decide the question include new members Michael Ganey, Sean Gaffney, John S. Hagen and Heather Shade. Seated members of the nine-member board are Kyle Gray, Scott Sundberg, Bill Kurz and Thom Ely.

Tuynman said nonprofits should have an equal voice in the chamber. She said there’s no legitimate reason for prohibiting a nonprofit executive from being nominated for the board on an equal basis with all other corporate entities.

“Perceptions and power bases have shifted since the days when chambers of commerce were equated with the good old boys. Nonprofits are businesses. They are corporations. Today nonprofits are recognized as generators of wealth for the social good, positively impacting all levels of our economy, continually bringing new energy and dollars into the community,” Tuynman said.  

Chamber executive director Debra Schnabel said the distinction between for-profit businesses and nonprofits has to do with generation of wealth. While nonprofits have made prominent contributions to the town’s economy, they redistribute wealth generated by businesses through the government or other avenues, while businesses generate wealth, she said.

“When the issue of generating wealth through the exploitation of public resources comes to the fore, it can become highly political. When you have an organization whose mission is to promote and advocate for the generation of wealth, and you have people on the board working for organizations whose mission isn’t the generation of wealth, you have a conflict,” Schnabel said.

Schnabel said nonprofits, unlike businesses, are not self-sustaining. “They depend on for-profit businesses that pay taxes and help sustain the community.” That nonprofits are eligible for membership in the business group already is a concession, Schnabel said.

Tuynman said she thought prohibiting nonprofits from voting would cost the business group members. Current chamber members include about 14 nonprofits.

Chamber president Gray said that other chambers of commerce in Alaska are addressing the same issue.


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