GL Chamber may shut down |

GL Chamber may shut down

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand Lake CO Colorado

The Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce is teetering on the brink of collapse due to reported incidences of fraud and theft, botched financial information and a failed $10,000 sponsorship for July’s Buffalo Barbecue event, plus $30,000 more for the Blues Festival and two other events.

With a clearer picture of the financials provided by a $10,000 audit completed recently by Bondi and Company of Denver, chamber board members learned the situation is so dire the chamber can only operate for another two weeks in its current state, said chamber board president Barb McElroy at a community meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3.

“No matter how we look at it, we have a very difficult time seeing how the chamber can continue to function as a business. That’s why we’re here today,” she said to an audience that filled the conference room at the Gateway Inn in Grand Lake.

Former Grand Lake Chamber Executive Director Brad Taylor, who started at the chamber in June 2007, faces felony theft charges for allegedly stealing more than $17,000 from the chamber during his two years on the job, all the while letting about $40,000 in chamber bills go delinquent.

Two phone messages and an email message to Taylor’s attorney Jeffrey Herren of Denver for comment on the allegations were not returned by press time.

The chamber’s debt includes $4,000 owed to the IRS.

From the recent audit – which had taken double the money and time than had been anticipated due to the confusion of chamber books, according to McElroy – the chamber has further learned that it had spent $116,000 in reserves in 2009 plus $36,000 more, leaving the chamber $152,000 in the hole entering the 2010 budget year.

The chamber budget is usually at around $220,000 to $250,000 per year, plus funds for Snow Shoot expenditures, which adds about $100,000 a year in Snow Shoot years, according to McElroy.

New chamber members who made up the most-recently elected board said they were unaware of the inaccuracies in the chamber financials.

“I now believe the information presented to the board was smoke and mirrors,” McElroy said.

In early January 2010, weeks after the chamber board started learning it owed outstanding debts to vendors, the board had decided to restrict Taylor’s duties and put him on probation for a year. But before he learned of the probation, Taylor had sent a resignation letter to the board by email.

In March, while Taylor was thought to be out of the state, he was wanted on Class 4 felony charges for alleged actions while heading the chamber.

He turned himself in to the Grand County Jail on June 16, and his bond was reduced from $50,000 to $10,000 based on a defense motion. On June 23, Taylor bonded out, listing a Grand Lake address in court documents.

Court documents say he had no prior record.

McElroy said on Wednesday that she plans to share with the district attorney’s office “the ramifications beyond the theft” that have led the Grand Lake Chamber to its current financial crisis.

The chamber’s situation was further impacted when a major sponsor of four summer events including the Buffalo Barbecue pulled out days prior to the event, leaving the chamber $40,000 further in the red, according to board members.

That same sponsor, the name of whom was withheld at the meeting, had promised sponsorships for the events but is no longer committed because it “didn’t want to associate with an organization that had such a negative background,” according to board member Lisa Jenkins.

The Blues Festival, Aug. 27-28, has already been marketed and advertised as free to the public.

At Tuesday’s meeting there was much discussion about what Grand Lake Chamber activities and functions – if any – should be salvaged.

Audience members provided both immediate and long-term solution ideas, which the chamber’s new executive director Sara Sable recorded on paper.

It was determined that $10,000 is needed for production of the Blues Festival, and board members agreed to expedite an email to all members informing them of an emergency donation drive; if the chamber received $10,000 by midnight Thursday, Aug. 5, the Blues Festival should be a go. If not, “there’s a very good chance we won’t have it,” McElroy said.

For those members who may be hesitant to donate to the chamber given the circumstances, McElroy said they could join the finance committee of the chamber to see firsthand how their money is being spent.

The other event in jeopardy, according to board members, is the Fall Bluegrass Festival, which traditionally takes place in September.

A chamber “restructuring committee,” a “volunteers committee,” and a “Blues Festival” committee sprouted out of Tuesday’s meeting. The restructuring committee made plans to meet as early as Thursday, Aug. 5 to iron out ideas before the chamber attends the Grand Lake Town Board workshop meeting on Monday, Aug. 9, where chamber members plan to ask the town for help and for suggestions about how to proceed.

A consensus at the recent community meeting was in favor of the chamber’s survival – and that operation of the visitors center and maintaining the chamber website are paramount functions.

But information shared at the meeting about the chamber’s financial status appeared grim:

• If the chamber continues as it has, given membership numbers remain the same and with the caveat that it cancel the September bluegrass festival, chamber operations may be in the hole by $40,000 at the end of October, according to accounting estimates produced by chamber volunteer Steve Armstead.

• If the chamber were to make “major cuts” – pared down to “bare-bones” operation only – it is poised to show $17,000 in losses by the end of October.

• Armstead also calculated the cost of closing the chamber completely. Because of outstanding bills and cancellation costs that would be associated with closing, terminating the chamber would cost about $50,000, he said.

McElroy, who has been working minimum 40-hour volunteer work weeks for the chamber in her retirement, said she’d like to see the chamber continue “in some form.”

“I’m not agreeing that I want to keep it going as it stands,” she said.

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