This morning's puzzler comes from Belle Fourche, where a fractured business community appears to be driving a wedge between the city council and the Chamber of Commerce.
For 20 years, the Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce has managed the city's visitor center, a nicely reappointed building at the intersection of Highway 212 and the Belle Fourche River. It's a nice building, with beautiful decks and lots of green space. The Chamber and visitor center share the building with the Tri-State Museum. Right outside is the Center of the Nation monument, which the Chamber installed in 2007 so visitors wouldn't have to trek all the way out to no man's land 20 miles north of town to take pictures of the real geographical center of the United States.
As thanks for promoting tourism and economic development, the Belle Fourche City Council is kicking the Chamber of Commerce out of the visitor center. Neither coverage of a Chamber informational meeting September 25 nor coverage of the council's eviction vote Monday night make clear what's motivating this tiff, but here are the tea leaves we're given to read:
Local restaurant operator and caterer Todd Fierro said he believes the visitor center should be split from the chamber because it's too much for one executive to manage.
...He added that the Center of the Nation Business Association (CONBA) was formed because some businesses were not happy with operation of the chamber of commerce.
That was the first mention of the association, but not the last.
Local Realtor Renee Bisgaard said, "Until somebody tells me why the visitor center is broken, why would we ever divide it?"
Bisgaard added, I think this is a CONBA-chamber issue."
Cass Heimbaugh, manager of the Hersruds of Belle Fourche auto dealership, added, "I don't think they (CONBA) see the chamber being in that building" [Milo Dailey, "Chamber Asks Why Some Council Members Want to Cut Visitor Center Funding," Rapid City Journal, 2013.09.25].
I smell two things in those comments:
- Someone doesn't like current Chamber director Teresa Schanzenbach having control over so much. Separating the Chamber from the visitor center could be about taking power out of her hands...
- ...and giving it to another group, the websiteless Center of the Nation Business Association.
City officials say the eviction is about tax-dollar accountability... which Schanzenbach seemed to provide in great detail at a September 17 public meeting. She says no one has explained to her what the Chamber has done wrong in its operation of the visitor center or what the city wants done differently.
Fierro offers this further signal that this eviction is driven by personality, not policy:
Fierro said, "The community is divided."
He added, "We've got two organizations in this town (chamber and CONBA) that should be one."
He said he didn't want to blame Schanzenbach, but he added that when she was hired, "That's when the community started to divide" [Dailey, 2013.09.25].
That sounds like blaming Schanzenbach to me.
Schanzenbach fires back, even as Belle Fourche mayor Gary Hendrickson argues a possible false analogy to justify squeezing her out:
Schanzenbach said she feels the council does not have the best interest of the businesses in town, nor the organizations that make this place a better community, in mind.
“They have hampered the 2014 tourism season and the promotion that businesses will be doing because we will not be able to assist in any of that,” she said.
Belle Fourche Mayor Gary Hendrickson said that since the city decided to remove the economic development corporation as the chamber’s responsibility, the corporation has flourished [Kaylee Tschetter, "City Council: Chamber Must Vacate Building," Black Hills Pioneer, 2013.10.08].
That Chamber/EDC split was relatively recent and coincided with the Bakken boom that has lifted sales and construction in Belle Fourche. To say that the administrative move to separate the city development corporation from the Chamber caused some flourishing of economic activity seems to stretch a point for political cover of a decision no one in Belle Fourche has clearly, publicly explained in policy terms: how does separating the Chamber of Commerce, the most active promoter of tourism in the city, from the Visitor Center, the most regularly visited tourist hub in the city, help Belle Fourche promote itself more effectively or efficiently?