City Moves to Control Chamber of Commerce

City Moves to Control Chamber of Commerce

By Marla Jones, Managing Editor •

RAINSVILLE, Ala. — (Full LIVE Video on our Facebook) At Monday night’s meeting of the Rainsville City Council, Councilmember Bejan Taheri made the motion to suspend funding for the Rainsville Chamber of Commerce.

In reference to the hiring of an assistant director, Taheri stated, “The way the Chamber Board...wanted to do was unacceptable or feasible [for] the way we wanted it to be done.”

“[When] the Chamber Board [makes] a decision to hire [an] assistant director, the money will be put back in their account,” Taheri stated to Southern Torch.

Southern Torch obtained text messages sent to the Chamber of Commerce Board members by Taheri concerning their hiring process.  Excerpts from those messages can be found below this article. In the messages, Taheri informs the Board that Chamber employees are hired by the City and must be approved by the mayor and city council. Obviously, the City and its officials would have no authority to commandeer private organizations and businesses.

According to Alabama Secretary of State records online, the Rainsville Chamber of Commerce is incorporated as a domestic nonprofit corporation under the name of “Rainsville Chamber of Commerce, Inc.” which deems it a private organization. According to Rainsville Chamber President Mandi Cooper, the city contracts for services with the Chamber. Cooper and members of the Chamber board released the following statement regarding the funding suspension:

I, along with other members of the Rainsville Chamber of Commerce Board, am disappointed in the Rainsville City Council’s decision to suspend funding to the Rainsville Chamber. The decision passed by a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Lingerfelt, and Councilmembers Taheri, Rosson, and Byrum in favor of the suspension. It should be noted that the Chamber is a nonprofit entity with a Board of Directors that makes decisions consistent with the best interests of the members we serve in mind. Recently, a hiring committee within the Chamber Board was tasked to interview candidates for the vacate Assistant Director position. The intent of the committee was to interview candidates and recommend the most qualified person to the Board for approval. The process utilized included fair, professional interviews conducted within the Chamber’s bylaws and job descriptions. After the interview process was completed, there was discussion among the Board and a hiring decision was made. It is disturbing that there has been an effort by the city to change existing Chamber bylaws and policy. As Chamber President, I am concerned for the future of the Chamber of Commerce and its member businesses.

The suspension of funds was put up to a vote and passed 4-2 with Councilmembers Derek Rosson, Ricky Byrum, Bejan Taheri, and Mayor Rodger Lingerfelt voting in favor of suspending funds to the Chamber, which helps promote and bring business and industry to the City. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, which the City of Rainsville abides by, Mayor Rodger Lingerfelt’s silence indicated a yes vote. As mayor, Lingerfelt presides over the meetings and conducts the meetings as the chairperson. Councilmembers Brandon Freeman and Marshall Stiefel voted against the measure. 

Stiefel stated, “After speaking with several members of the Chamber, my understanding was that the Chamber Board had hired someone. This was relayed to liaison Taheri, who expressed his disapproval and threatened to pull funds a few weeks ago.”

The newly-hired assistant director heard of the controversy and declined to accept the position.

The Council approved the following:

  • Sewer line work for phase one for repairs starting at manhole 11-111 (in the amount of $7,500 plus rock)
  • Emergency repair to sewer due to rain on Lofton Street (estimated amount of $18,000) to Johnny Clem
  • Hired Prue Callahan (seasonal worker) for 20 hours per week at the Rainsville Library
  • A $2,580 quote by Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative (FTC) for cameras at the Rainsville City Park to protect monuments and park area
  • Resolution 05-06-2019 to surplus a truck from the sanitation department
  • Approved the purchase a 1999 Ford F-350 for the Sanitation Department
  • The change of a streetlight to LED on Thompson Street
  • Accepted Tony Blackwell’s resignation from the Police Department
  • Accepted Justin Harper’s resignation from the Fire Department
  • Accepted a quote to replace tiles on Browns Chapel Road, Wade Street and Chambers Avenue (in the amount of $3,000)
  • Approved the purchase of 100 chairs at a cost of $2,100 to be used in the council chambers
  • Approved $2,200 for annual hose and ladder testing for the Rainsville Fire Department
  • Approved a sponsorship to the Plainview Lady Bears Softball Team, who placed second in Area and will advance to regional play

The Council will open bids on May 14 at 3pm for a Humvee to be used for the Fire Department. 

Eric Samples, President of the Public Building Authority Board (PBA), updated the Council on bookings for the Northeast Alabama Agri-Business Center. He reported that the PBA was still seeking applicants for a director. 

Councilmember Marshall Stiefel asked Samples if the Council would be involved in the hiring process. Samples stated that the position would not be an employee of the City, have no benefits and would be interviewed by the PBA Board only. 

Councilmember Stiefel reached out to Southern Torch to state that this was “taxation without representation,” due to the City subsidizing the Agri-Business Center with taxpayer money. Stiefel said, “The City should have a hand in the hiring process to avoid problems that have occurred in the past.” 

The next meeting of the Rainsville City Council will be held on Monday, May 20 at 5pm with a workshop beginning at 4:15pm.