UNITY — When board members of the Waldo County Regional Chamber of Commerce meet this Thursday, they’ll be deciding how to divvy up the duties of the Chamber’s former executive director.
James Lovejoy stepped down from that position Dec. 31 after the board earlier in the month voted by an 8-7 majority to eliminate the job.
“It was based primarily on not having enough funds to continue the position,” Lovejoy said. “I did not agree with the decision.
“I put a lot of myself into this. This was very disappointing.”
Lovejoy, who had served as executive director of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce for eight years before leaving the position in June 1996, was a major driving force in founding the county Chamber about 15 months ago. The Chamber got its initial financial backing from Bert Clifford, who owns the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad Co. and Unitel, a telephone company. Clifford is the Chamber’s president.
It was Lovejoy who set about the task of recruiting members, a roster that now stands at about 240. “I had hoped to get 300 members by the end of this year,” he said. “We needed to educate people about how the Chamber works — and I visited as many businesses as possible.”
Most small businesses pay $100 each year in dues, with larger industries paying more, according to Lovejoy. He said about 80 percent of the current membership is at the $100 level.
The county Chamber received a big boost in membership when the Searsport Chamber of Commerce melded into the Waldo County group.
“My hope all along — I make no bones about it — was to have the Belfast Chamber combine with the Waldo County Chamber,” he said. “You’d have a chamber with a good 500 to 600 members.” He estimates there are 1,200 businesses in Waldo County outside Belfast.
Lovejoy said he had a one-year commitment from Clifford to pay the salaries of the Chamber’s executive director and a clerk. That subsidy was to end in June 1997. “I knew we’d have to deal with this eventually,” he said of the vote by the board.
Clifford did not return a phone message left for him.
Barry McCormick, the Chamber’s first vice president, who is in line to succeed Clifford as president this spring, reacted Monday when asked about the future of the Chamber. “This is all getting twisted around as something negative,” he said.
He declined to comment further, saying that the Chamber would issue a press release after its Thursday meeting. He did say that Lovejoy’s duties will likely be done on a voluntary basis.
Lovejoy was skeptical about the effectiveness of such a tack. “It’s difficult to do the day-to-day work consistently if you’re a volunteer,” he said. If Chamber members take on the work, they might be forced to let their attention to business slide, he said.