It’s business as usual at the Clovis Chamber of Commerce as the organization gears up for ClovisFest, its second largest annual event, in the absence of a formal leader.
On Aug. 3, the chamber’s CEO Mark Blackney resigned before the board, which then voted to instate former board president Gary Honeycutt as an interim executive director of sorts. He and current board president Layla Forstedt, who works full time for Fresno/Clovis Convention and Visitors Bureau, are working hand and hand with membership director Diana Hunnicutt and events coordinator Tammi Walton to keep operations running smoothly as they prepare to start the search for a new executive director to take up the helm.
“Right now, I’m just trying to make sure all the bills are paid and I’m sort of the point person,” Honeycutt said. “Someone will call and I basically tell them I’ll get back to them and ask Tammy or Diana before calling back. I’m basically taking care of administrative stuff.”
While Blackney’s departure was unexpected, Honeycutt said he had been inching toward retirement for some time. According to Honeycutt, Blackney originally intended to work until he was 70, but after the sudden death of his wife, Fran, who also worked for the chamber, in November 2015, things changed.
“They were not only husband and wife, but they worked together very closely and when she died I think a huge part of Mark died too and understandably, I think he lost interest and at his age he was really just ready to retire,” Honeycutt said. “I’ve talked to him twice on the phone since his resignation and he sounds happy. He seems to be at peace.”
One might assume the stepping down of the chamber’s figurehead would cause chaos, but Honeycutt said even he is surprised at how smoothly things are running.
“I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised with both Diana and Tammi and the systems they have in place; it makes what I’m doing far easier,” Honeycutt said. “I thought I was going to jump into a mess but it’s really not.”
As for finding a new leader, Honeycutt said the chamber is taking the time to assess its specific needs and come up with an accurate job description before posting the opening.
“If not a national search, we intend to at least expand the search to several states and really try to find the right fit for a chamber of this size and get the right person, not just someone who happens to be next door,” Honeycutt said. “It very well could be someone already living in Clovis or Fresno, but it might not. We haven’t started the search yet, we want to make sure we have the job description down and that is one of the things I’m doing. I’m trying to figure out what kind of a person we really need, what the challenges of the chamber are and where we are going.”
Forstedt said heading up a chamber is unlike serving as the head of a business or typical non-profit organization and her hope is that the Clovis Chamber will find someone who not only knows the magnitude and responsibility of leading a chamber, but is excited and passionate about the job.
“I run the [Fresno/Clovis] Convention and Visitors Bureau and bureaus and chambers are very different,” she said. “People may have been the executive director of whatever, but they don’t always know what they are walking into. We want to make sure someone really has a passion for that and wants to take it to the next level. Clovis is such a great place so we feel like it’s going to be this fantastic job for someone.”
Finding the right candidate will take precedence over other matters at hand, such as what the chamber plans to do with its Old Town building at 325 Pollasky Ave.
“We don’t want to kick the can down the road, but I suspect we’ll have a new person sitting in this chair before we decide what we’re going to do with the building,” Honeycutt said. “It is such a great location for a chamber of commerce right here in Old Town so we’d hate to move, but we’ve had a couple of offers and it would be easy for us to move to an office space somewhere. Right now, the building just isn’t efficient.”
The new executive director will also need to assess staffing and other needs. Personally, Honeycutt said he’s like to see a larger staff in the future.
“I think our internal goals will be up to the new executive director, but I personally would like to see the membership and sponsorship department under Diana have three people eventually instead of just her because she is doing too much,” Honeycutt said. “I think we need to situate people here, instead of three or four of us we need to double the staff but it all has to come with money.”