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Tualatin chamber: Hope is gone

Longtime Tualatin resident Ed Casey to serve as the chamber's interim executive director
by: , Hope Howard

TUALATIN - Hope Howard, the former executive director of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, has no idea what she'll do next.

After committing 21 years to the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, seeing her family volunteer for 18 years at the chamber's Crawfish Festival and spending seven years as the chamber's first paid full-time executive director, Howard said, 'I can't imagine being anywhere else.'

Howard said she was informed on March 8 that the chamber board had decided to let her go. The news came as a shock to Howard.

Chamber board President Bill Phillips showed up in the morning and, according to Howard, told her, 'The board decided to take the chamber in a new direction, and (the new direction) doesn't include your leadership.'

'I won't say it wasn't a surprise,' Howard said. 'I wasn't aware the board was contemplating any big changes. But in a position like mine, you serve at the pleasure of the board who is well within their rights to change their vision of the chamber, including its leadership.'

The board waited until March 19 to send out a general statement to Tualatin chamber members informing them of Howard's 'departure.' The statement, attributed to Phillips, did not give a reason for Howard's 'departure.'

The statement, which was released via e-mail, did mention that the board was looking for a new 'executive director to take the chamber in exciting and new directions.'

The board has chosen Ed Casey, a retired business owner and charter member of the Tualatin chamber, to serve as the chamber's interim executive director. Casey served as board president from 1981 to 1982. He was a board member for 10 years and has lived in Tualatin for 34 years.

President-elect Cheryl Dorman commented Wednesday that the 'new direction' that the chamber will be heading in has not been decided upon yet.

'We'll be looking toward our members to create a new direction,' Dorman said.

Howard said she remained quiet on her employment status until Friday, March 16, when she had completed negotiations with the board.

But rumors of Howard's dismissal had been circulating among local chambers since March 9. Howard's chamber e-mail address was no longer active March 9 and her name had been removed from the chamber office's voicemail options by last week.

Early last week board members said they would not comment on Howard until the board was ready to make an official statement. Phillip's statement was e-mailed to The Times on Friday, March 16.

After a week of negotiations with the board, Howard said she and the chamber board 'are fine' with the decision.

Phillip's statement sent to chamber members Monday started with the short but poignant phrase 'Tualatin Chamber seeks new Executive Director.'

Phillips' statement to chamber members also noted that the chamber board has already established a selection committee that is expected to immediately begin searching for a new executive director.

'We appreciate Hope's efforts on behalf of the chamber and wish her well in her future endeavors,' Phillips' said in his message.

Howard said she hopes to stay involved in tourism in Washington County but noted that it will be hard not working in the city she has grown attached to in the last 21 years.

Howard had been involved with the Tualatin chamber since 1986 when she worked at a travel agency in the city. She was named Business Person of the Year for Tualatin in 1990. Howard was chamber board president in 1995.

Howard received numerous awards during her tenure at the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce, including the 2004 award for Best Festival in Oregon for the Tualatin Crawfish Festival from the Oregon Festival and Events Association.

Awards like that, Howard said, gave the Crawfish Festival exposure throughout Oregon and helped put Tualatin on the festival map.

Howard's family has been involved with the Crawfish Festival every year since 1988. Howard's daughter has been a regular festival attendee and volunteer ever since she was born, Howard said. With the news of dismissal, though, Howard said her family is wondering what they'll do now.

When asked if she would still attend the Crawfish Festival this year, Howard said, 'We'll probably be out of town this year. I think it will be too hard.'

In a prepared statement Howard also wrote, '(The Howard family) will always remember our years at the festival fondly, and it is definitely with lump(s) in our throat(s) that we leave it behind; our summers will never be the same.'