In Haines, there’s been an ongoing debate about what role nonprofits should have in the local chamber of commerce. On Friday, that question was finally answered. Starting next month, nonprofits can continue to be voting members, but they can’t serve on the Chamber board.
Friday’s vote on updated Chamber bylaws went differently than one back in August.
At that initial vote, the amended bylaws were rejected 14 to eight.
They may have been rejected because of the most contentious part of the bylaws – a section clarifying who can join the Chamber and who can serve on the board.
“We broke up the members into three separate classes,” explained Chamber board president Kyle Gray. “Primary members being a for-profit business, community members being government, nonprofits or organizations or associations, and then third is supporting members which would be an individual which is not representative of a business or another entity.”
Each category of members has a different level of power. Individuals can be members, but not vote. Nonprofits can vote, but not serve on the board. For-profits can vote and serve on the board.
“Basically board member eligibility is restricted to being a part of a for-profit business,” Gray said.
That’s been the major sticking point in the bylaws discussion: whether nonprofits should have an equal role to for-profits in the Chamber. Of the 116 current Chamber members, 18 are nonprofits.
Gray says opinion on the issue is polarized. Some people want to be fully inclusive of nonprofits, saying in such a small community, they play a vital role. But others want to exclude nonprofits, saying they could dilute commercial interests.
“So there was a division in the membership, or there was extreme on both sides. And this is the compromise.”
On Friday, the compromise was successful. In a vote of 13-2, members approved the change. Gray says he thinks that’s partly because he and other board representatives spent the past couple months talking to Chamber members.
“People came and talked to me a lot and said why are you doing what you’re doing? And once I had the chance to explain to a lot of people they agreed that this was the right direction to go.”
His explanation was this:
“We did what we did to focus in on what a chamber is about. A chamber is about advocating and supporting a business community.”
In August, Gray said he thought the Chamber might lose members no matter which way the bylaws turned out, because feelings were so strong on both sides. He hopes the last couple months of discussion with members will mean that doesn’t happen.
Gray says the vote may have also gone more smoothly this time around because of a new initiative the Chamber is working on: an economic development corporation. Gray says nonprofit involvement will be a key part of that group.
There were several other bylaw changes that were approved at Friday’s meeting. They include altering the Chamber’s mission statement and allowing electronic voting.
A proposal cutting the number of board members from nine to seven did not pass.
The new rules go into effect Nov. 1. That means in this December’s Chamber election to fill five board seats, nonprofits and individuals will officially not be able to run.