The Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce board of directors and staff

The Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce board of directors and staff include, from left front, board Secretary Morgan Mahala, former board President Jerianna Bennetts, Marketing Director Lyndsay Bertram, board Treasurer Kit Salway, board member Jay Smith and membership and sales coordinator Jon Cobb. Back: board President Mark Hammer,  board members Tim Stange and Ryan Martin, events coordinator Melissa Traynham and  board members Tom Rollings and Keith Barbeau.

Buena Vista – The Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce welcomed three new members and named a new president of its governing board during its Oct. 23 meeting.

Newly elected to the board by chamber members were Keith Barbeau, a business consultant specializing in restaurants and hospitality; Buena Vista Event Cooperative representative Tom Rollings; and Collegiate Peaks Bank President Jay Smith.

Treasurer Kit Salway was re-elected to the board.

The board unanimously voted Mark Hammer to be the new board president, taking over for outgoing president Jerianna Bennetts.

“I’m invested in this community. I want to participate, I want to help in any way I can,” Barbeau said.

“I’m interested in trying to be part of a positive change, and knowing how the chamber’s history has been, I’m really supportive and encouraged by the new direction,” Rollings said.

“This will be the third chamber I’ve served on, the third chamber board. It’s something I’ve always been passionate about. In the banking world, as you know, you take care of the people who take care of you, and that’s the businesses in this community,” Smith said.

Two Buena Vista town trustees, Libby Fay and Cindie Swisher, attended the meeting as well. The mood of the meeting was far different from those the chamber board held nearly a year ago.

The sudden resignation of longtime chamber Executive Director Kathi Perry, the resurfacing of prior allegations of fraud against Mike Sorrels, then the manager of the Liars Lodge bed and breakfast and the chamber board’s treasurer, and the board’s decision to restructure the chamber staff to eliminate the executive director position altogether led to a contentious series of meetings in the winter of 2018.

The board held the meetings about staff restructuring in the Buena Vista Community Center, anticipating a higher public turnout. A police officer was stationed in the back of the room for security.

“We went through a really tough time last year,” Salway said. “We ended up closing our meetings to the public because we had to move forward and not always be disrupted.”

Bennetts said, “It’s why our bylaws have changed so that we now can ask that session to be closed or we can ask people to leave, but it is not written in our bylaws that all meetings are closed. We are still open to the public.”

“Now that some of those details have been handled, we can get back into some of the regular item things that we have to do,” board Secretary Morgan Mahala said.

The chamber also saw some turnover in its employees, with marketing specialist Jamie Billesbach and event specialist Carole Vowell leaving. The chamber partnered with the town in 2019 to assist the town code enforcement officer in processing the permitting for the town’s slate of more than 30 special events.

“I think the structure of that and how it was presented was very difficult, because then people thought all of those events were chamber events because they’re talking to a chamber employee about how to go about getting permitting and stuff,” Bennetts said.

“It was very confusing for the businesses on who to talk to about that because in any other time in years past they had always gone to the town for permitting, and now all of a sudden they’re coming to the chamber.”

Town Administrator Phillip Puckett was not present at the chamber board meeting but said that while the partnership with the chamber on events had been intended to streamline the process, ultimately event organizers had to work with two entities instead of one.

Also, he said, the demand of working on every event that was seeking permitting took resources away from planning the events that the chamber itself sponsored.

For example, Bennetts said, the planning for the chamber-run Gold Rush Days in August was severely impacted by the event coordinator being caught up in processing Ride the Rockies, which was organized by the Denver Post.

“That employee spent almost 100 percent of her time on that event, organizing meetings with Ride the Rockies, organizing the communication between all of the businesses and all of the town members and how they could help, organizing volunteers for that. That was not our event, and she spent almost 100 percent of her time on that,” Bennetts said. “It’s a good idea, but the execution of that the first year did not go very well.”

In 2020, the town will be looking to make a part-time employee of its recreation department full-time, moving the job of preparing for events to that department, while new events specialist Melissa Traynham will focus only on chamber-run events.

“Most chambers, especially chambers our size, really only put on two or three events a year, and we consistently find ourselves putting on seven, eight events a year,” Mahala said.

Board member Ryan Martin said, “This was the year to figure out the bumps, especially with the restructure.”

The chamber’s newest staff member, Traynham had only been on staff for about a week when the board met Wednesday but said she had “been able to get out, help Lyndsay with some of the member spotlights, starting to meet the members. Jon and Lyndsay have done a great job of just getting me up to date on what’s happening, background on some stuff.”

Traynham said she was beginning to pull things together for Christmas Opening as well.

Marketing specialist Lyndsay Bertram said she and Traynham had been visiting member businesses and creating short “member spotlight” videos.

“Melissa and I have been interviewing all of the members and taking pictures, doing a video,” Bertram said. “They’re going to get a CD with all the pictures I’ve taken that are edited, they’re getting their radio ad, they’re getting their video. They can do whatever they want with it. It’s theirs.”

Bertram also teased that the coming year’s visitor guide “is going to be a different guide than you’ve seen before.”

“We’re pretty excited about the member spotlight; it’s one of the serious complaints we were taking from members previously during the reconstruction that their business wasn’t getting any attention,” Mahala said.

“Now that we’ve been able to break things down better and sort things out in house, with each of our staff having specific duties, we can break it down into categories like hospitality or services and within a given period spotlight each and every one of them.”

Jon Cobb, the chamber’s membership specialist, said, “Some of the comments we’ve already been getting, like from the Book Nook, is ‘it’s about time we got recognized for what we do here.’ And those types of things are awesome … what we’re trying really hard to do is reach out to all businesses. There’s this perception that it’s Main Street, Main Street, Main Street. Not anymore – it’s all of BV.”

Mahala said many chamber members weren’t even aware of what benefits they were entitled to with their membership dues, and part of the chamber’s reconstruction has simply been to communicate to businesses what the chamber can do, primarily through Cobb, whose position in the chamber staff is specifically oriented around getting face time with member businesses.

“I’m going out and seeing every single member, and I’m getting comments like, ‘well, gosh, nobody from the chamber has ever visited my business before,’” Cobb said.

Hammer said, “We put resources in that area that were never there before. For example, Jon’s job, membership and sales, there was no job like that before the restructuring. There was the executive director, there was marketing, there was welcome center … now there’s 33 percent of our staff dedicated to membership and sales.”

Salway said the chamber has been partnering with Chaffee County Economic Development Corp. to host business classes for members.

Bertram said she was working to reformat the chamber’s website and “bring it up to this era.”

“What I’m hearing right now, I just can’t sit. I’m revved up about this, because what we’ve got, what we’ve been working on, rolling,” said board member Tim Stange.

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