DAYTON - The recent decision to relocate the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce offices is raising a few ethical questions about voting procedures.
On July 12, the chamber board voted to move and rent space within the recently opened Dayton Valley Glass and Screen. Chamber offices were at Sutro Square, sharing space with Dayton Copy Center and the Dayton Leader/Courier. The two locations face each other across Highway 50 in Dayton.
Some members subsequently questioned the legality of Jo Cole, co-owner of Dayton Valley Screen and Glass, taking part in the decision that will give her $1,200 more per year in rent than was paid for the previous site.
Cole along with Charles Harrall and Bob Browne voted in support of the move; Lois Storrs, Debbie Van Why and Nikki Hamner voted to remain at Sutro Square. With the resulting tie, chamber president Wayne Pedlar cast the tie breaking vote in favor of relocating.
Expressing support for the board's decision, Pedlar admits, however, he made a mistake in allowing Cole to vote.
"The board made a decision to move. I would infer from that vote they felt it was justified," Pedlar said. "However, after reconsideration, I realize I should have informed her that she had a conflict and should not have voted on that decision."
Pedlar said he will schedule reconsideration of the issue at the board's upcoming meeting and "the decision will either be reconfirmed or further action will be taken. I will ask Ms. Cole to refrain from participating in any manner."
Cole now says she simply did what she was told was OK and doesn't feel she was acting illegally at the time.
"Our president should have known the rules and regulations. If someone had told me it was wrong I would not have voted and in retrospect, no, I should not have voted," she said.
Pedlar plans to address adoption of a conflict of interest policy, or change in the by-laws, to avoid future problems.
Other board members contacted last week appear to agree Cole's participation was wrong.
Appointed to the board immediately following the July vote, Dr. Ann Steinberg referred to the Guide for Non-Profit Organizations, distributed by the State Attorney General's Office, regarding Cole's participation, noting "The Attorney General's Guide specifically states board members should avoid conflicts like this. She had a direct financial interest and should have excused herself."
According to member Bob Browne, "There is no doubt it was a conflict, but it was an honest conflict. We should have had all members present. Jo voted when she probably should not have."
Voting conflict resolved or not, there still remains disagreement as to the need to relocate in the first place. In voting to relocate, the board also agreed to pay Cole $250 a month in rent, a $100 increase above that paid at Sutro Square.
Those in opposition to the move cite an unneeded increase in rent, ample and suitable space, accessibility and cooperation of those with whom they were sharing the office .
According to Steinberg, "I don't think there is financial or any other justification for moving at this point. The previous location was adequate by far what is needed."
Those favoring the new location, however, claim the new site offers better visibility, a friendlier and more receptive atmosphere, handicap access and restrooms, a lease agreement and the ability to have someone there five and a half days a week.
This past year the chamber hired one paid employee to work 10 to 15 hours a week for $150 a week plus expenses. The feasibility of maintaining this position will also be discussed at the upcoming board meeting, with at least one board member saying he will fight for elimination of the position.
Mike Walker said "I will bring it up at our next meeting to terminate the paid position. It does not justify the expense. We have an annual budget of approximately $10,000. We need the money to do other things, like building a new office building. We made a mistake in hiring a paid employee."