Switzer resigns chamber post

BLYTHEWOOD – In what it called a leadership transition, the board of directors of the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce announced Friday that executive director Mike Switzer has resigned his post with the Chamber.

Switzer has served as the Chamber’s executive director since 2014. During his tenure he has expanded the Chamber’s membership and programming, Chamber board chair Matt Cunningham said in an email to Chamber members.

“I am proud to have led the Chamber during this period of tremendous growth,” Switzer was quoted in the email. “I am grateful for the many businesses who have joined the Chamber and for all who have given of their time and talents to help the Chamber and our community grow and prosper.”

While the Chamber has grown from 20 or so members to 187 under Switzer’s leadership in the last five years, much of that growth has come from businesses outside the town. Switzer has come under increasing public criticism from Mayor J. Michael Ross and some of the town’s businesses for focusing on bringing in large out of town businesses instead of focusing on bringing prosperity to what Ross calls the town’s mom and pop businesses.

The Chamber’s financials have been a target of investigation by The Voice newspaper for almost two years.

Last month, almost a year after the Chamber was unable to produce a credible set of books to Town Hall for the previous budget year, the Chamber’s board chairman-elect Phil Frye told Council last month that the Chamber still does not have a working budget or even a draft budget to present to Council.

In May, 2018, after an investigation by The Voice of the Chamber’s financials, Council called for the Chamber, which is funded primarily by the Town, to turn over its complete financial records by June 12, 2018. Copies of those documents were subsequently provided to The Voice by town government officials.

After being asked by The Voice to review the documents, CPA and former Town Councilman Bob Massa concluded the submitted financials were “confusing, lacking in detail and sometimes impossible to follow and understand.”

Massa said records submitted by the Chamber indicated that $18,500 provided to the Chamber by the Town Council to fund a Visitor Center was more likely used to help pay the Chamber’s operating expenses, and that the Visitor Center served as little more than a pass-through for those funds to the Chamber.

On June 25, 2018, council voted unanimously to stop funding the Visitor Center after Dec. 31, 2018.

Financial records submitted to the town government at FY 2017-18 year end were also lacking in details for thousands of dollars the Chamber received from the town, t-shirt sales, sponsorships and other sources for events including the Big Grab and the Eclipse.

Still, in February, 2019, Town Council voted to award another $14,000 of Hospitality Tax revenue to the Chamber for a fundraiser for itself.

In an application requesting the funding, Sarah Ballard, an event manager hired for the event – a Bavarian Oktoberfest – noted that it was being held to raise funds for the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce, and that it will also provide an opportunity for residents of Blythewood and the surrounding areas to build community and learn about Bavarian culture.

The request said the total project cost would be $37,394 and would be partially funded by the proceeds from food, merchandise and beer sales ($14,500), cow paddy bingo ($18,450) and sponsorships ($10,000) plus $1,520 in in-kind services.

According to the request, the Chamber expects a total net profit of $21,125.12.

The Town has also funded the Chamber with a grant each year to cover operating expenses. Last year, the grant was for $19,500. According to the agenda of the April, 2019 Council meeting, the Chamber is expected to ask Council for $20,500 for the upcoming budget – $17,000 for an economic development work subsidy (previously called a grant by town officials) and $3,500 for an ‘elite partner’ annual membership for the Town government at the Premier Level.

Since last summer, Ross has partially, though not officially, recused himself from discussions/voting on Chamber funding since he and a business partner are the Chamber’s landlords for the space the Chamber rents in McNulty Plaza in downtown Blythewood.

In the announcement on Friday of Switzer’s resignation, Cunningham said Switzer is leaving his post with the Chamber in order to dedicate more time to one of his business ventures.

The board has appointed Phil Frye to serve as interim manager, effective immediately. Frye is managing director of Pee Dee Enterprises, Ltd. and is the former chair-elect of the Chamber board. He received the Chamber’s community service volunteer of the year award at its gala in December.