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Chamber officials: Repairing relationship with veteran group a high priority

Quotable

“The Chamber Board wants to further relationships with the (Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265). If they can live with it, we can live with it. It’s a win for everybody. We all have bigger and better things to look forward to than arguing.”

— Chamber of Commerce Board member Don Jones

To rebuild relations with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, the Craig Chamber of Commerce Board decided to go against one of its policies by offering the local nonprofit free membership.

The board decision was reached after VFW members attended the monthly Chamber Board meeting in February to discuss a rental payment for the Marcia Car lot or to explore ideas to have the train car removed from VFW property.

The VFW had been a longtime member of the Chamber, but cancelled its membership more than a year ago, Chamber Director Christina Oxley said.

The Chamber Board discussed March 8 ways to bring the VFW back into the organization and keep the Marcia Car in its present location.

Two options were presented.

The first was to extend the VFW two free nonprofit memberships and two separate listings in the Chamber member directory — one for the VFW clubhouse and one for the VFW restaurant.

The second option focused on asking the VFW to pay for two nonprofit memberships, at $62.50 each, and then cut a check to the VFW's scholarship fund in the same amount at the end of the year.

Chamber Board Chairman Jeff Smith said he worried the organization could receive harsh criticism from the public and its members if it decided on either option.

"Several years ago, concerns were raised about the Craig Chamber of Commerce trading memberships for services," Smith said. "A policy was adopted that the Chamber would no longer do that. I think this would look like we were exchanging dues for rent."

In addition, several Chamber members raised concerns about whether violating its own policy would motivate other members to take similar action.

But, board member Gene Bilodeau said the Marcia Car is a unique situation.

"I don't see this as paying rent," he said. "No money is exchanging hands. We're just providing them with membership for allowing us to keep the Marcia Car where it is. As a board member, I am comfortable in defending why we did it this way."

The board used words like "partnership" in justifying its decision.

Gail Severson reminded other board members of the positive contributions the VFW has made to the Chamber and the community in the past.

"I think the VFW has proven over the years that they want to be Chamber members," Severson said. "They have done so much for us and this building, which was years ago, but we're still flying the flag they gave us, we're still using the sidewalk they poured, and they did the landscaping for us free of charge."

Severson offered a motion to approve the first option of offering the VFW two free memberships, which the board approved.

The offer was extended to the VFW on March 12 via a letter from Oxley.

On Saturday, VFW quartermaster Larry Neu said members discussed the proposal during its meeting March 13.

He said the majority of VFW members were offended by the offer.

"They're trying to split us up into two organizations and we're not," Neu said. "We are one organization under one roof. If that's their terms, then we're back to square one."

Neu said the VFW's preference is to have one membership and a good working relationship with the Chamber.

Oxley said the Chamber has the same goal — to have a positive relationship with the VFW. She said it was not the intention of the Chamber to offend the VFW.

Oxley said the board decided to offer the VFW two memberships to allow the nonprofit to be listed appropriately in the Chamber directory under both categories of clubs and restaurants.

"It just helps us in terms of paperwork to make sure they get listed in the right categories and the right publications," she said. "We're not trying to separate them, we're not trying to make them separate organizations, we're just trying to get them to show up in all of the right places. Two memberships was the most effective way for us to do that."

Board member Don Jones anticipates the Chamber will amend its offer to satisfy the VFW.

"The Chamber Board wants to further relationships with the VFW," Jones said. "If they can live with it, we can live with it. It's a win for everybody.

"We all have bigger and better things to look forward to than arguing."

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