Lakeland board cuts third from chamber’s funding

Lakeland logo copyOne of cinema’s most recognizable lines, a quotation from Cool Hand Luke, was applicable during tense discussions between the Lakeland Board of Commissioners and Chamber of Commerce.

“What we got here is failure to communicate” ranks as the 11th best quotation in film history, according to the American Film Institute. But it ranks as the number one reason why the board cut the chamber’s budget by a third at a board meeting last week.

The mayor and commissioners criticized the chamber’s communication issues during a work session a couple of weeks before the July 21 business meeting. The criticisms arose again when the chamber didn’t sufficiently ramp up its communication efforts between the July 9 and July 23 meetings.

Commissioner Gene Torrey urged the board to cut the chamber’s budget from $1,500 to $1,000 monthly to get the chamber’s attention until corrections are made.

They voted to reduce funding to the chamber by a third until the board receives timely communication about uses of the funding, invitations to the chamber’s internal meetings, frequent communications about the chamber’s conversations with prospective Lakeland businesses and other ways to involve the city’s leadership more in the chamber’s functions.

“I think everybody realizes that our partnership can be a huge asset to the city,” said City Manager Jim Atkinson. “We can really become efficient and get a lot of great things done. But it hasn’t been operating that way, yet. It has the potential, but it’s not there yet. And I think the board was clearly sending a message: ‘We want to get this working now and not continue the way it’s been. Let’s get it to what it can be.’”

Atkinson said the reduced funding will stay in place until the communications improve. Such issues could cause confusion and reflect poorly on both the chamber and board members.

“The Board of Commissioners, as elected officials, communicate with a lot of people about different things,” Atkinson said. “And when there is stuff happening with the chamber, either them communicating with local business owners or trying to attract new business to town, and our elected officials didn’t know that or didn’t know exactly what was happening, it put [board members] in a bad spot, as they were talking to their own people.”

It does not benefit Lakeland when the city board and chamber fail to be a united front when talking with outside interests. Atkinson explained, “One commissioner mentioned that he had been talking to somebody about a certain location and came to find out later the chamber was talking to somebody else about that same location. That’s the kind of conflict you want to avoid.”

As for the chamber, its leaders said they will need to look at where to cut back because of the reduced funding. At the Aug. 6 meeting, there will be discussions about where the organization is headed after receiving this financial reprimand.

Board members also said they can reevaluate the chamber’s funding as the communications improve.

Chamber-LogoGinny Dunn, the chamber’s economic development coordinator, expressed her desire to heal the situation as quickly and carefully as possible.

“I want to move forward and have the communication that they expect,” Dunn said. “I hope to meet or exceed their expectations, because it’s all about bringing Lakeland into a positive light because Lakeland is a great community.”

Representatives of the chamber will be expected to make regular appearances before the board and the Lakeland Development Corporation and give the city board weekly updates on the chamber’s activities.

Although the budget cut seems to have Lakeland taking a step back, Atkinson said it’s for a greater goal.

“Our intent is to improve our relationship with the chamber,” he said. “It seems counter-intuitive, what the board did, but I think the ultimate goal is to utilize the asset of the chamber, so we can become more effective.”