A recent Journal-World news story reported developments in the search for a new president and chief executive officer for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.
An executive search firm has been hired, and a number of Lawrence residents have been interviewed by representatives of that firm. Several gatherings were held in which more than 100 residents offered their opinions as to what kind of individual should be hired and were asked what they thought were the major challenges, strengths and/or deficiencies of the chamber. Plans also call for a survey, e-mailed to approximately 1,500 residents to find out what these individuals think about the chamber.
After all of this, and after the search firm suggests "X" number of people to be considered for the job, the plan is to invite three "finalists" to Lawrence to participate in a series of public meetings. The news story reported that everyone will be invited to attend these meetings and ask questions, form opinions and fill out evaluation forms grading the finalists.
According to the story, the goal is to recommend to the chamber board of directors a candidate with "the widest possible appeal, most desirable skills and best chance for success in a community where consensus on economic development and other issues often has proven elusive." Apparently, the new chamber CEO is to be selected through a series of town-hall-type meetings with the most popular individual being recommended for the job.
Lawrence needs the best qualified individual, a person with vision and an excellent record of success. This person needs to be familiar with the difficulties of running a chamber of commerce in a university community where there are many different opinions and residents are proud of their special interest groups. He or she should have dealt successfully with the "growth vs. no-growth" debate and have experience in a community that is becoming more of a bedroom community for nearby, larger cities.
The new chamber leader should not be selected because he or she has the best smile, the friendliest manner, the best handshake or seems open to the most fervent special interest groups at the public gatherings.
Lawrence needs a smart, experienced, well educated chamber executive, but he or she also needs a board of directors with some backbone, vision and respect in the community, not just a group of "yes men" and "yes women."
This is not time for a popularity contest. Lawrence cannot afford not to have a strong chamber of commerce if the city is to be competitive in the coming years. It already has drifted with the tide far too long.
Lawrence used to be known for having one of the state's finest chambers of commerce. It needs to get back to that well-deserved position and it can't be done with a wishy-washy chamber of commerce president who tries to be all things to all people.