Chamber, coordinator part ways

The Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce board fired its coordinator, Mary Chapman, on Monday this week, with Chapman disputing the validity of the reason she was told.

Mary Chapman
Mary Chapman

Chamber board president Scott Berry was asked the reason just a few hours after the termination, and Berry only said the board decided it “wants to go in a new direction.”

Berry said that he and the board thank Chapman for her work for the chamber and is taking resumes and applications to fill the position.

A sign was attached to the front of the locked door to the chamber office late Monday afternoon stating that if anyone wants to contact the chamber they should call 389-0178. That is the number for the Berry Law Offices business that Berry owns and operates.

Chapman joined the chamber board of directors in November 2009 and was hired for the coordinator job about six months later, starting May 12, 2010.

Chapman commented from her home Tuesday morning by phone on the termination. She said that Berry and fellow chamber board directors Mark Oleen and Bob Michael had told her last Thursday, April 4, about the chamber decision. It was that she was being given the ultimatum to either resign or be fired and that she would have until Monday to think about it. She said the reason they gave her for the firing was just that she was “short with people.”

Chapman said she thought about that over the weekend and then responded to the chamber board in an e-mail.

How could someone who was “short with people” have increased the chamber’s membership by 25 percent in the last three years; increased attendance at the chamber’s monthly general membership meetings to an average of 60 each month from a prior low of about 10, and helped increase attendance at the chamber’s annual gala by 50 percent? she asked.

She said she also has “too much respect for the Princeton community” to resign prior to the annual Rum River Festival in June. “I know how much work there is to put that on,” she said.

Chapman said that after she was given the ultimatum last Thursday, she cleared personal possessions out of the chamber office that day, “thinking that something was going to happen on Monday (April 8).”

It was in the early afternoon on Monday that Berry, Oleen, and another board member, Deb Ulm, came into her office to collect the office key and instruct her to leave the computer on and leave, Chapman said.

Chapman did not know as of Tuesday morning if she would be receiving compensation for 80 hours of accumulated vacation time and the approximately five days of comp time she felt she had coming from working extra. If the chamber board holds with the ultimatum it had given her that she would collect those compensations if she chose to resign, then she might not get them now, she said.

“I don’t know what I did that was so wrong,” Chapman added. “They didn’t tell me anything specific. I liked the job. I liked working with the chamber members and with the city and all the accomplishments with the city. So it’s very disappointing.”

Chapman and the chamber board had been working with Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman for at least a year now in running a competition called “It Starts Here” to fill vacancies in downtown buildings. The city put up $30,000 in surplus tax increment financing money to be used for up to three grand prizes in the program. Various businesses also pledged to offer a number of in-kind services to the grand prize winners.

Not having a coordinator until Chapman is replaced, will mean extra work for the chamber in ongoing preparations for the Rum River Festival, putting out the chamber’s monthly newsletter called The Focus,” and other responsibilities.