The board of directors of the Buena Vista Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center issued a terse statement to members on Friday morning, Nov. 30 saying that there had been unverified allegations made against one of their board members. The unspecified allegations coincide with two incidents which took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week; a confrontation during a chamber member round table over the departure of the previous executive director and the creation of a fake Facebook profile that attempted to spread rumors on the Chaffee County Democrats Facebook page.
“We want our community and our members to know that we are taking this seriously. We have consulted an attorney and will release information as it comes available,” read the board of director’s brief message.
The incidents follows the resignation in early November of former Chamber Executive Director Kathi Perry, after 26 years of service.
On Wednesday evening, Nov 28 during the first of what will be three member round table gatherings, a testy exchange ensued between Erin Godonis (at that time not a member of the BV Chamber) and members of the Chamber Board of Directors. Godonis identified herself as a past president of the chamber. She questioned the departure of Perry saying she was fired, asking about funds, programming, why the board now requires two signatures on every check, and in general demanded to know why the board was moving in a new direction.
The board, which had organized the round table to hear from members about their needs and the future direction and organization of the chamber of commerce and the visitor center, denied firing Perry and pulled the meeting back on track. “We’re here to talk about the future – how the chamber can be a dynamic entity of the future – to talk about the mission of the visitor center, and the business climate of BV year-around,” said board treasure Mike Sorrels.
“I’m here representing 42 businesses who didn’t want to come – they wanted one representative,” said Godonis. (There was no explanation why a non-member would show up at a member meeting to represent organization members. Godonis re-joined on Friday morning, Nov. 30 as an individual member). “It was in the newspaper – she was fired, not retired. Pinon is making this up. Jamie was with me when we talked to Scott Peterson.”
About what topic she discussed with Peterson, Godonis did not say. But during a call to Scott Peterson on Friday, Peterson said he hadn’t talked to Erin Godonis in at least a year.
The board explained in the Nov. 28 member’s meeting that the town would like to separate the two chamber functions by target audience; dividing the chamber support activities (business audience) from the visitors center (consumer audience). In a release announcing Perry’s departure, the chamber board of directors explained that the “immense growth the town of Buena Vista, the county and the state have experienced” were reasons for the new structure and “a shared mindset of a fundamental way of thinking about perceiving and understanding the new needs of the chamber and visitor center.”
Ark Valley Voice can find no media record that Perry was fired from the role she held for 26 years. The board of directors has confirmed that as part of the restructuring, the decision was made to eliminate the executive director position covering both roles. A meeting to present this to Perry was scheduled for Dec. 1, but she was delayed getting back from a vacation so the meeting was held Nov. 5. Treasurer Sorrels said Perry was offered a $5,000 bonus as a thank you for her long service, which is due for payout on Wednesday, Dec. 5.
The BV Chamber works on an annual budget around $120,000. “People have the assumption that we are funded by the county, town, local entities – but we get most of our money from membership and we do many events to raise funding during the year,” said board president Jerianna Bennetts. “To accomplish this shift in mission execution the town is going to assist with support.”
Another curious incident coincides with these events. On Thursday, Nov. 29 County Clerk and Recorder Lori Mitchell, a Democrat and one of the moderators of the Chaffee County Democrats Facebook page, said that a non-member attempted membership on the group with accusatory messaging directed at a BV Chamber of Commerce board member. The group is a closed group with several administrators.
“First they tried to look up Democrat party chair Susan Shepherd, but spelled her name wrong. Then they submitted a message full of accusations against a BV Chamber of Commerce board member. It was nasty stuff, but the identity was fake,” said Mitchell. “This was obviously a fake profile – it didn’t pass the smell test.
“They tried to pull the Democrats into trashing this man,” said Mitchell. “I saw the name and sent them a Facebook message – asked ‘why are you are creating a fake profile to try and take down a guy?’ How low is that! It was all fake – a stock photo, no friends, no real person behind it — a fake profile to take somebody down. Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to try to impersonate being a real person to spread nasty rumors and allegations. Who does that?”
While ‘who’ is a good question, ‘why’ is probably the key, unanswered question.