Chamber Pots


Tulsa Today has a powerful account of the self-destruction of the once-powerful Tulsa Metro Chamber, an organization that receives millions of tax dollars annually to promote Tulsa's economic development. The article quotes an unnamed staffer who describes Chamber CEO Jay Clemens as "a complexly bizarre kind of guy who vacillates between psychotic paranoia, arrogance, and bullying." The article goes on to detail the control-freak organizational culture that keeps employees in a state of fear and keeps board members in the dark.

The Chamber's influence has been on the wane since the November 2000 defeat of "It's Tulsa's Time", the $263 million sales tax increase for a new arena and convention facilities. I served on the Convention and Tourism Task Force leading up to that vote. It was supposed to be a grass-roots process to determine what Tulsans wanted for our city, and there were reports that the Steering Committee was developing a novel set of recommendations that would look very different from the failed 1997 proposal. The Chamber leadership and then-Mayor Savage sidelined the Steering Committee, a broad-based group which included opponents of the failed 1997 package, and created an "Executive Committee" that could be relied upon to reach the predetermined conclusion. The Chamber's campaign strategy was to avoid debate and pretend that the opposition didn't exist. The ostrich-like strategy didn't work, and Tulsa voters simultaneously turned down the Tulsa Time package and approved "4 to Fix the County", a sales tax extension for a variety of improvements to county facilities and infrastructure.

The Chamber leadership seems to still want to believe that they alone run the city, and they've rebuffed friendly overtures to include them as partners with other groups in developing a new vision for the Tulsa region. "My way or the highway," is the unspoken gist of the Chamber's response.

High praise to Mayor LaFortune and his team for setting out to scrutinize the effectiveness of the Chamber's economic development efforts. Meanwhile, the hundreds and thousands of ordinary businesses who belong to the Chamber ought to wonder if their interests are being effectively represented by the organization that receives their dues. The board's job is to hold the CEO and staff accountable; the members should insist that the board do its duty.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 7, 2003 11:20 PM.

Mayor, Chamber of Commerce to lead sales tax opposition was the previous entry in this blog.

Does local TV matter anymore? is the next entry in this blog.

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