Tahlequah Daily Press

Editorials

July 9, 2014

Only full disclosure will restore trust in the chamber

TAHLEQUAH — A few board members for the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce are saying they’ve heard nothing but positive things lately – about the chamber itself, and presumably, about themselves.

Optimism, a positive outlook, and a determination to move forward should indeed be prime goals. But a panorama viewed through the lenses of rose-colored glasses calls to mind the fabled three wise monkeys, who in western parlance “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.” Refusing to acknowledge a problem won’t make it go away, nor will surrounding oneself with flatterers more intent on currying favor than acknowledging mistakes and leveling constructive criticism. It takes courage to confront a leader in a small community, especially when everything is so intertwined that jobs and reputations could be at stake.

A lowly newspaper staffer might be less intimidating, or more likely, the paper is viewed as a hub for citizens who want to air their frustration. Since the news of the chamber embezzlement probe broke last month, the public has been exercising that option in spades – and from their collective viewpoint, the situation isn’t all sweetness and light.

An online poll conducted last week by the Daily Press attracted nearly 250 respondents, who answered the question: “What action should the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce board members take to restore credibility?”

Nearly 40 percent said the entire 16-member board should resign. But board members have made it clear they aren’t entertaining this suggestion, and that’s hardly surprising, since the majority of them not only haven’t admitted to any wrongdoing, they wish the Press and others who are dragging the unsavory elements of this saga into the light would just shut up and go away.

The clean-sweep option isn’t tenable at this point, especially since getting a majority of chamber members together to fill all board slots would be impossible. And although the board as a whole may have been asleep at the wheel while financial shenanigans were going on behind their backs, it wouldn’t be fair to paint them all with the same broad brush of malfeasance now coloring a former employee.

A larger percentage of respondents, 44 percent, is more realistic; these folks want the OSBI to wrap up its investigation before any decisions are made. Eleven percent said some board members should resign and be held responsible for the missing money. Another 6 percent indicated board members should stay put, but should apologize publicly for the problems. So far, there’s been no indication any mea culpas are forthcoming, which shouldn’t be surprising: Those who think they’ve done nothing wrong have nothing to apologize for.

Incidentally, only one person said the board members should stay in office, forget the scandal, and move forward.

Like the board members, the Press and all other chamber members want to see this mess wrapped up and set aside, so we can all get back to our common goal of growing and improving Cherokee County. But that cannot happen until all the details are out in the open – details the public has a right to know.

The new board president, Steve Turner, and interim Director Drew Haley, have both indicated chamber business is now an open book. They’ve been making records available for members’ perusal, and that’s an enormous step on the path to restoring trust.

Despite pressure from some quarters, neither the Press nor anyone else who values full disclosure will be clamming up until all the facts are known, and those who are responsible meet with justice. The truth can be ugly, but a righteous leader will do everything he or she can to push for transparency, rather than thrashing those who want answers. Healing starts with the truth.

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