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City seeks to re-establish relationship with chamber

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The Roswell City Council voted Thursday night to direct the city manager to arrange an audit of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce and re-establish a relationship with the organization.

The motion to do so presented by Councilor Jason Perry was different from the action item on the council’s agenda, which was consideration of the city staff’s recommendation for a firm to audit the chamber at a cost to the city of $32,790.

The directive allows City Manager Joe Neeb the discretion to work with the chamber to choose an auditing firm rather than accepting the recommendation of Kubiak Melton and Associates of Albuquerque as made by city Finance Director Monica Garcia.

The vote was eight to two and came after about 20 minutes of discussion that included comments from the president of the chamber board of directors and a former chamber employee.

Councilors George Peterson and Juan Oropesa voted against the directive, both saying the chamber is dealing with internal issues the city should not be part of and expressing concern for the cost.

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Voting for the directive were Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Margaret Kennard — a former chamber employee — Perry, Judy Stubbs, Jeanine Best, Savino Sanchez, Angela Moore and Barry Foster.

The item had been forwarded to the full City Council by the Finance Committee, which Perry chairs, at its Aug. 6 meeting.

The audit is a stipulation of the city accepting the chamber’s March 12 immediate termination of its business retention service contract with the city signed in 2018. The agreement included a requirement of a 60-day notice of termination from either party.

Neeb outlined the timeline of the city’s dealings with the chamber, beginning with a request for a full audit on Feb. 24.

“There were concerns that were shared at that time that we believed the audit would alleviate any of our fears or concerns,” Neeb said.

That request came about a month and a half after four of the chamber’s staff, including Kennard, resigned on the same day. Kennard had been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the City Council.

In June, the city Finance Department completed interviews of firms for the audit, recommending Kubiak Melton and Associates of Albuquerque. The chamber recommended Jaramilo Accounting Group, also of Albuquerque, at a cost of $30,744.

“Both of the parties see the value in completing the audit. However, the chamber board did express some concern because they were not kept up to date on that process. There were some challenges internally that made it difficult for them to stay abreast of where the city was at,” Neeb said.

On Aug. 3, Candace Purcella resigned as executive director of the chamber, Board President Andrea Moore said in comments to the council.

Moore was elected to the position in January and took office a little over a month ago, she said.

“She did give us notice. There is no animosity between the board and Candace as she continues to pursue whatever she has decided to go do in the future,” Moore said.

She said she could not say any more than that because it is a personnel issue.

“We are doing our due diligence to clean up anything and that’s why myself and my executive board has been speaking with both the mayor and the city manager. We would love to have the audit,” she said.

Oropesa and Peterson questioned the need for the city to be involved.

“I think the $32,000 is pretty expensive for an audit. I don’t think it’s needed. There’s a lot of internal stuff going on that the city shouldn’t be involved in,” Peterson said.

Oropesa agreed, adding since the chamber and city no longer had an agreement, the chamber should pay for an audit if it desires one.

But several other councilors pointed out the city has an interest because the chamber has received public money, not only from the city but from Chaves County, as well.

The audit, as outlined in the Finance Committee, would examine chamber finances for the last three years.

Perry reiterated that his motion was not just to conduct an audit, but also to re-establish a relationship between the city and the chamber to benefit the business community.

“I want to help this chamber to get to where we can have that shining help to our businesses and to bring those retentions in that are viable to our community,” he said.

Kennard, who had worked for several months as the chamber’s administrative director before being appointed to the City Council, said transparency was important.

“I believe anyone who has invested their time, money or resources into the Roswell Chamber of Commerce deserves transparency. This includes the taxpayers,” she said.

She said she had been asked to recuse herself from Thursday’s vote because of her involvement with the chamber. Kennard said she began volunteering with the organization in 2015, including serving on membership campaigns. She continues to volunteer for the organization’s Leadership Roswell program.

“I have an even greater responsibility to participate in this vote. During my time at the chamber, I saw things that were concerning. I believe that those who are genuinely concerned about the chamber recovering and repairing its relationship in the community would be in favor of this audit,” she said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.