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Hart's sudden departure leaves Chamber scrambling

Former president Bob McDonald will step in as director until a new one is found

Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO JIM CLARK - Alison Hart, Gresham Chamber of Commerce's CEO up until last Wednesday, in a photo taken Febraury 2013. Hart departedly suddenly to pursue other opportunities. Bob McDonald was just fine being in retirement.

But when Gresham Chamber of Commerce CEO Alison Hart resigned suddenly last week, McDonald was asked to step in.

“’Do you have anybody else in mind?’” he recalled saying, adding: “I was looking for a way out.”

But no, there was no one else. The longtime chamber supporter, one-time interim director and six-year former chamber president was the best choice.

“If you’re passionate about something, how can you say no?” McDonald said from the brightly lit chamber director office on Hood Avenue.

Hart said in a statement to The Outlook that she left for "personal reasons.

"I have had a tremendous amount of personal change in my life in the past year and came to realize that making a career move was a part of that," Hart wrote, adding: "It has been a pleasure serving the business community in the region and I greatly value the relationships that I have built. I am proud of the growth that has taken place at the Chamber during that time in regards to programming, the government affair program and advocacy, member satisfaction and organizational sustainability."

Sources at the chamber said she presented a letter of resignation Monday, Nov. 17, and was gone by that Wednesday.

In that letter, she calls her nearly four-year stretch as director “cathartic.”

“I know that in order to open new doors that it is necessary to close old ones,” Hart wrote.

President Matt Miller accepted Hart’s resignation and said they didn’t talk about what her next moves were.

“I think it’s always kind of a chaotic thing when you have somebody leaving an organization,” Miller said, adding that Hart will be missed. “She has done some incredible and fantastic things for the chamber.”

“We’ll miss her but we wish her well,” President-elect Lynn Snodgrass agreed. “It sounded like she was just ready to close a door ... That’s what she said, so that’s what I have to go with.”

Asked if there was any foul play — for example, the recent theft at the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce — Snodgrass said: “Absolutely not.”

“There’s no question whatsoever on her character,” McDonald concurred.

Snodgrass added that the nearly 500-member chamber is fortunate that McDonald has the skills, experience and ability to fill in.

“What a blessing to be able to have somebody who can step right in on such short notice and not skip a beat,” Snodgrass said.

New priorities

While 71-year-old McDonald is itching to go back to his retired life as soon as possible, the national search for a new director is expected to take around six months.

The chamber’s board of directors has a retreat Dec. 16 during which it will flesh out goals and priorities for the coming years.

McDonald said they plan to frame the search for the new CEO based on the goals they set and would probably not put out a job notice until early January.

“And that’s Bob speaking. That’s not official.”

Until then, McDonald says his immediate priority is filling a part-time position heading up the chamber's bike tourism program. A two-year grant for the East Multnomah County Bicycle Tourism Initiative expires June 2015, and a new proposal needs to be submitted by mid-December.

The chamber honored McDonald’s new role during a brief ceremony at the Friday morning regular meeting Nov. 21. The former private school principal had been a greeter for the regular meetings, standing out in the customary red vest of the Ambassadors. After the announcement of Hart’s departure, the new interim director’s red vest was traded for a suit coat.

“Been in community 25 years, and I just couldn’t walk away,” he said.

Alison Hart

Alison Hart took over in January 2011 when former executive director Carol Nielsen-Hood retired after 13 years. According to her LinkedIn profile, before joining the chamber she managed a six-person marketing team at a subsidiary of DMG World Media.

Hart studied English and French at the University of San Francisco, where she served an internship with the 2,000-member French-American Chamber of Commerce.

In a March 5, 2013, interview with The Outlook, Hart said her biggest challenge at the chamber was being an outsider.

"I wasn't from Gresham, so that was both a blessing and a challenge.

The blessing was I was able to look at things objectively because I didn't have any history here. I had a fresh set of eyes. But the downside was I didn't have those established relationships with people. I had to work a little harder to create them."

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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