Commission rejects chamber’s proposal, narrows candidates for executive director position

Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, speaks Friday during a news conference to announce the chamber board had unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the repeal of Fayetteville’s new civil rights ordinance.

Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Members of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission narrowed the list of candidates to lead the commission when longtime executive director Marilyn Heifner retires early next year.

Marilyn Heifner offered her resignation as executive director in September after 22 years with the commission. Her tentative last day of work will be Jan. 31, 2015.

Commissioners made their decision in a closed, executive session where members of the public and media are not allowed to listen in. It’s typical procedure in a public meeting to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters.

After the public meeting resumed, commission chair Ching Mong read the names of the individuals selected. Each person will be asked to attend and in-person interview with the commission as a whole before any job offers are made.

The group chose: Kym Hughes, former executive director at the Sandy Springs, Georgia Convention & Visitors Bureau; Gary A. Pearce, Jr., former director of operations/deputy director at the Kissimmee Florida Convention & Visitors Bureau; and John Robert (J.R.) Shaw, senior vice president of tourism at the Washington County (Pennsylvania) Chamber of Commerce.

Heifner’s annual salary is $88,200. The group has not yet decided on a salary for the new executive director.

Chamber proposal rejected

The commission heard a short presentation from Steve Clark, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, regarding Clark’s recent proposal to have the chamber take over the commission instead of hiring an individual executive director.

Clark told commissioners the combined efforts of the chamber and commission would present more opportunities for economic development and HMR revenue growth in Fayetteville.

Clark suggested a $1 annual contract between the chamber and the commission beginning Jan. 1, 2015 and lasting one year. He said the chamber would manage commission staff, operations, programs and budgeting, but all contractual commitments would still require approval during a vote of the seven-member commission.

Clark said if his proposal was approved, he would still need to hire a manager to assume the day-to-day activities that are normally handled by Heifner. He said all current staffing levels would remain unchanged during the first year, including positions at the Visitors Bureau, Town Center and Clinton House Museum.

Clark addressed what he called an “elephant in the room,” referring to the chamber’s recent decision to begin a campaign calling for repeal of Fayetteville’s new civil rights ordinance that would prohibit business owners and landlords from unjustly firing or evicting someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics.

Clark told commissioners the chamber does not condone discrimination of any kind, but instead chose to rally for repeal of the ordinance board members believe the new law was written poorly and is too vague in its definition of what is prohibited.

Heifner said she did not like the idea of the chamber taking the reigns once she steps down.

“I strongly believe that the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission is in better shape than it has ever been before,” wrote Heifer in a memo distributed Monday.

Heifner went on to list several accomplishments the organization has made in the past two years, including accreditation from the Destination Management Association International, which includes only one other visitors bureau in the state; and tracked completion of events and meetings which totaled over $20 million in economic impact for Fayetteville.

“I highlight our current state and our recent accomplishments because I feel that it is important to acknowledge that with so much success in our efforts, it seems an inappropriate time to consider a significant change as to our our staff and efforts are managed,” said Heifner.

Following Clark’s presentation, the commission went back into executive session to discuss the proposal, and later announced that after the private vote, the chamber would not be invited back for an interview.

After the meeting, commissioners said it was a 4-3 vote with Matt Behrend, Bobby Ferrell, and Justin Tennant voting in favor of bringing the chamber back to interview. Ching Mong, Tim Freeman, Matthew Petty and Hannah Withers voted against the proposal.