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Small Town Politics | My Chamber of Commerce Experience
It was a little village - about 1200 people.
At one time I lived in a very small town where the Chamber of Commerce was as close as we got to having a governing body... aside from the Tribe (a verifiable tribe of Native Americans.) Let's not go into tribal issues... I want to focus on the community's version of tribe in this town: the local Chamber of Commerce.
I moved there in January 2000 right after Y2K. Remember that? At first I didn't have any intentions for my life there other than to want to simply live and let live. But after settling in I decided I needed a career. I wanted to be a writer, and had some experience with news writing. The town didn't have a newspaper, and I decided to start one online (I would never have been able to afford to put out a paper edition.)
Next I needed something to write about, so I decided to start attending community meetings and being sociable. Was that my first mistake or my second? Maybe the first was in thinking I could start a news service for this town and still have everyone like me. The town seemed divided; half the people liked me and the other half resented that I wanted to write about their town.
It is fun to have dinner with friends.
My first pot-luck dinner there...
I accepted an invitation to attend a pot-luck dinner at the local Lions Hall, hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce. I met more people than I could store in my memory banks. What fun! As I recall, the food wasn't bad either.
Looking back on that group of community volunteers I remember one man who is now deceased, one woman who left when her husband got a job in Death Valley, another woman who returned to her home state of Wisconsin, and lots of people I still know in that town. I took photos and put them in my new online newspaper.
I didn't have any intention of getting involved further than that... I was a homeschooling mom and my first interest was in staying home with my kids.
My webdesign business
My second major error was in deciding to become the town's web designer.
You see, the Chamber of Commerce wanted a website, and had nobody to do it for them. They posted a notice on the local bulletin boards - that proposals were being accepted. They got none.
Meanwhile I started attending the meetings - I think they were every Tuesday at one of the two local restaurants. (This is a very small town.) As it happened, I knew how to create websites - they knew that because I had my little news website on the web already by then. So they wanted me to make them a website.
I agreed to do so in exchange for a membership in the Chamber of Commerce... and a few months later added their website to my news website since they didn't have a domain name and nobody had a clue about hosting costs. Their site remained on my server for about two years, then finally we expanded to a Chamber of Commerce domain name on a separate section of my server, which by then had expanded to a reseller account on Kualo.Com ... a service I still use and highly recommend. The customer service is fast and effective.
[As of 2007 I closed this business. I discovered that I loved doing webdesign work for myself more than for other people. I morphed my online business life into something much different.]
- How to Start a Home-Based Webdesign Business
This is what my webdesign website turned into.
- Creative Process - Seven Steps For Becoming More Creative
Creative process steps for increased creativity and enhanced life experience.
Small Town USA - a good song!
Changes in the Chamber of Commerce - small town politics go topsy turvy
About that time my world got turned upside down. You see, there was an election and most of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors (myself included) did not get re-elected. I was pretty much okay with that until I found out that the new president of the Chamber of Commerce had decided that the website I'd built was deficient, that I should be replaced as web designer, and my little work of art should be torn down.
I found out it was her oldest daughter that told her my website was, in her opinion, no good. This particular woman didn't own a computer at the time and had no real knowledge or understanding of the web. That was a bit frustrating for me, but then I found out there was a new web designer in town, a man, and the president wanted to hire him.
I was shocked... but it got worse when I realized (1) I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce; he wasn't. For some reason I thought that should have qualified me for some preferential treatment... and (2) I had paid a lot of money to the county to set myself up with a fictitious business name, home use permit, and expensive business license; he hadn't bothered.
I soon realized he had very little webdesign experience and was pretty much pretending to be a web designer because he thought it might be an easy way to make money in a small town. His own webdesign site was a pathetic mess because he didn't know how to build websites right.
I guess I wouldn't have been so upset if I thought he had skills and talents, but he didn't have anything except a persuasive personality.
Then I saw his advertisements on the bulletin boards around town which said something like, "Pay me just $200 - no need to hire an expensive web designer." I was a little miffed because I'd spent eight years learning HTML, CSS and XHTML and he knew none of that. Plus, I didn't charge much more than that myself, yet I had the skills to do the job right.
I protested, and was told I had to submit a proposal and in the future, bill the Chamber of Commerce and pay a membership fee. Always before this I'd bartered, getting my $50 membership free in exchange for the $300+ worth of website maintenance I'd done.
I thought the Chamber was getting a grand deal... but this new crew thought otherwise. So I submitted my proposal in a letter. They decided I should have the job... and I continued as their web host and designer for another couple of years. It was much more financially profitable for me, because now I billed them annually and got a lot more than the Chamber membership cost.
If what you're doing doesn't work well for you, do something different.
I quit! Enough small town politics for me!
Eventually in 2007 I decided to quit my webdesign business. This coincided with the take-over of our Chamber of Commerce by a woman who had recently come to town. As I understand it, she paid for Chamber memberships for some non-business-owners in our community so they could vote her in and vote some of the long-time volunteers out. I knew I didn't want to work with her... and quickly wrote a letter to the Chamber of Commerce to let everyone know I would no longer be their webdesigner. No way! And I closed my business because I really wanted to do something else with my life by then.
The advantage of non-participation in small town politics was that I gained peace of mind, my income soared, and I didn't have to deal with unfriendly self-serving people. I highly recommend it to anyone who has problems with small town politics in local community groups.
Cutting back on community involvement helped me manage my productive work time better.
A great time management book
If you're dealing with time management issues, consider reading this book. The title may sound strange, but the principles offered are well worth learning. This book is highly rated and used by hundreds of thousands of busy people all over the world. It has been translated into over 20 languages.
At one time the people involved put community friendships first and the Chamber of Commerce was lots of fun. Everyone in town was invited to meetings. Everyone was respected and cared about.
Unfortunately, that shifted. I think it started with Chamber members wanted secret board meetings, and that continued from 2004 up until 2011. It totally destroyed the atmosphere of the organization. Suddenly distrust and unfriendliness ruled.
New members decided they wanted to get involved and felt the need to push out and get rid of people who had been long-time members of the Board of Directors and dedicated community volunteers for many years. There was a lot of power tripping involved. I wasn't the one most hurt by this because early on I decided to distance myself from what looked like an increasing time of excessive egotism.
You would think that in a small town we'd all learn to get along, be happy, have fun... but NO... some people were too busy exerting their "authority" over others and it got pretty boring and disgusting fairly quickly... so I bowed out. I got tired of seeing the tight unfriendly lines on people's faces and decided I had better things to do with my life.
Learn to conduct effective and efficient board meetings
My time on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
Maybe this is a good time to mention that I was a member of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors there from 2001 until 2004.
For several years I avoided participation in the organization because of the unfriendly personalities involved. I'm just not the competitive type; I'd rather go home and be happy where I'm loved.
I originally wrote this page early in 2011.
A few months later, at the end of March 2011, I was convinced to rejoin the Chamber, and again was elected to the Board of Directors. That lasted over a year, but due to stress in the Chamber and at home, I had to quit.
Since then some of my friends have been busy working for the Chamber of Commerce. They've rented a nice office next to the post office, and have revitalized the former friendly atmosphere of Board of Directors meetings. They host several good annual events and there are plenty of volunteers willing to keep the office open, to provide community information for visitors to their town.
When it works, it is beautiful... but leave your ego at home.
Small Town Politics
Ever been involved in small town politics?
Small towns, don't you love them?
Finally! A good book on small town life has been published. The publisher of this book is Princeton University Press, so you know you'll get quality information here, and the book, so far, is highly rated at Amazon. It was published in 2013.
This book covers small town inhabitants, how they view their towns, their identities, work and money issues, earning respect, improving the community, congregations, moral sentiments, small town politics, future planning, and that sense of community one can find in a small town, that is sadly lacking in larger towns.