As the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce apparently heads into the home stretch of its search for a new chief executive officer, wanting to have the new hired leader in place yet this quarter, let’s hope there’s a new perspective about a fundamental qualification for the job.
Instead of playing another round of musical chairs within the ranks of professional chamber of commerce execs, maybe it’s time to recognize that what’s needed for Lawrence is someone who understands Lawrence and can function effectively in our community, with all its idiosyncrasies.
To back up, Hank Booth has been capably handling the reins on an interim basis since July 2011 when Tom Kern handed in his resignation after about three years as the local chamber exec. In the eyes of some community leaders, Kern never got comfortable in or with Lawrence; he often was frustrated particularly with factions in development circles and never seemed to click, despite making an earnest effort. About the time that he might have been expected to be hitting his stride, he ambled instead toward a new job in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
He’s in a succession of less-than-successful, relatively short-term chamber execs, all of whom have come to the post from traditional chamber backgrounds.
The current search is being labeled as a regional one. That’s reasonable. Perhaps there’s an outstanding individual somewhere in the Midwest who’s just perfect for the CEO position here. It would be foolish to rule out someone arbitrarily.
But it would be just as foolish not to consider people who may be highly familiar with Lawrence, Douglas County and Kansas simply because they’re not steeped in the typical chamber training and credentials. Perhaps the better credentials are knowledge of our city and region, and a demonstrated ability to lead, to bring together divergent interests, and to convince people to act in the best interests of the community at large. Lawrence needs the right person in place and it could be that that person already is among our neighbors.
(And good luck finding anyone who has all the characteristics outlined in the six-page “position profile” distributed over the signatures of the search firm. Tellingly, it devotes half a page to Lawrence and Douglas County, and most of the other five pages to the attributes of the CEO, his or her duties, qualifications, “desired personal traits” and “preferred knowledge, skills and abilities.” Thankfully, anyway, it does not rule out applicants with private or public sector experience.)
The chamber board needs to act expeditiously on this decision, but should not be afraid to start over if the right candidate does not surface in this round.
Once the job is filled, the new CEO and the board should move swiftly to fill the economic development position that’s also vacant. These important positions within the community cannot go unfilled too long without harming Lawrence’s ability to evolve in a positive way.