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Chamber ex-officio resigns from board

Mark Buser steps down while board of directors begins to move chamber in positive direction

Mark Buser, former president of the West Linn Chamber of Commerce board of directors, has resigned as ex-officio board member in the wake of recent monetary problems within the non-profit organization.

In March, the chamber shut the doors to its office on Elliot St. and its interim director and administrative assistant resigned due to a lack of funds. Since then, volunteers have been operating the chamber on limited office hours while conducting most of its usual events and services, according to current board president Mark Hanson.

Buser said the aftermath of his making public what he described as a misuse of chamber funds to West Linn city officials and the Tidings has adversely affected his personal life.

'Like wolves feasting on a fresh kill, rumors, mistruths and personal attacks flooded the Tidings Web site, my inbox and even my place of employment,' Buser said in a written statement (to read the full text of the statement, turn to Page A5). 'I went public with this information to avert the appearance of myself and others being complicit in covering up revelations of a gross misuse of chamber funds.'

Buser maintains that during his time as the board president from 2006 through 2007, financial reports from former executive director Mary Closson did not paint an accurate picture of the chamber's financial woes.

'I'd think I'd be remiss to say that the past 60 days and the stuff that has transpired with the chamber hasn't affected me,' said Buser, who is also running for a spot on the West Linn City Council. 'It would affect anybody. I took a lot of criticism for what went on.'

Buser said he and the board developed budgets for 2006 and 2007. He said after Closson resigned in February to take a similar position with the Hood River Chamber of Commerce, it was discovered that the 2007 budget had been exceeded due to unauthorized transfers to the general fund from the Farmers and Artists Market account and a restricted tourism funds account, large outstanding bills, uncollected membership dues, personal debit expenditures and bank penalties.

And the chamber was left with $28,000 in debt, $18,000 of which was unreported to the board. Buser said it was the transfers from the farmers market fund, which was created through a $12,000 grant from the city of West Linn, and the tourism fund, created with Clackamas County tourism money, that led him to make the chamber's problems public.

'All of the myriad of other things that have put forth, that just translates as sloppiness on staff's part and definitely sloppiness on the board oversight,' Buser said.

Closson denies that the board was left in the dark regarding the chamber's financial situation, saying she repeatedly expressed to Buser and the board that it was experiencing cash flow issues. And she said the board was made aware of every detail of the chamber's finances. Current board president Mark Hanson believes the chamber's problems are nothing more than a small organization trying to grow too fast.

Hanson said the board has accepted Buser's resignation and that it was an important step in moving forward.

'It's a happy and a sad situation,' Hanson said. 'Mark put his heart and soul into the chamber. But it's time we move in a different direction.'

Buser's resignation is virtually a symbolic gesture. As an ex-officio board member, he did not have a vote on the board and attended meetings largely in an advisory capacity. His resignation does mark an end to his eight years as a chamber volunteer, starting in 2001 as a board member. From 2002 to 2005, Buser served as board vice president.

'For me, this is closure,' Buser said. 'And I hope its closure for the community and for the chamber.'

Hanson said the chamber has successfully begun its recovery and has scheduled business as usual for the most part. He said the books have now been reconciled and a part-time bookkeeper has been organizing the financial picture in preparation for two public forums scheduled this month. The first forum is set from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 17 at the West Linn Adult Community Center. The second forum is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 22 at the Oregon Golf Club.

The chamber plans to relocate its office to the Westlake Properties complex on Willamette Drive, which is owned by board member Molly Macom. Hanson said the board has been working to beef up committee structures for chamber events such as the annual golf tournament and said he hopes membership has a greater role in the chamber's operation. He also said he hopes to hire a part-time employee by the beginning of June.

'Things are beginning to look up,' Hanson said.