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After a council decision to terminate a tourism visitor services contract that was due to run until the end of this year, Meaford's Chamber of Commerce has gone on the offensive to inform the public and to refute inaccuracies that have circulated around town in recent weeks.

Beginning with ‘For Sale’ signs appearing on Meaford's iconic Visitor Information Apple on Sykes Street – which the Chamber owns but no longer has a use for – to a well-attended ‘After Five’ event at the Chamber office on January 30, which featured a presentation entitled “Fighting Back,” Chamber representatives provided some clarifications about the role the Chamber has played in the municipality over the years and the funds paid to them by the municipality.

The Chamber continued their information campaign with an appearance on CBC Radio's Ontario Morning program by Chamber President Shirley Keaveney on February 5, during which she discussed the Chamber's reasons for offering up their Apple for sale.

Among the clarifications the Chamber is hoping to communicate to Meaford residents is an accounting of the various tasks the Chamber has carried out in the municipality over the last several years.

The Meaford Chamber of Commerce has received many inquiries for clarification of the events of the past six weeks,” said Keaveney in a statement sent to media outlets. “Many have expressed dismay and shock that the Chamber will be losing long-time employee Sheila Ross.”

Keaveney said that in the interests of transparency and accountability, the Chamber wanted to ensure that residents had their questions answered.

In addition to the core business of supporting their members, the Meaford Chamber of Commerce has had a contract to deliver tourism services for the last 14 years on behalf of the municipality. Financial reports on these contracts are a matter of record delivered through the Chamber’s annual general meetings as well as with progress reports to the municipality,” said the statement.

At the ‘After Five’ event, Chamber representatives reminded those in attendance that while the Chamber has delivered tourism-related services to the municipality for many years, the $1.2 million quoted by Councillor Young last month as having been paid out to the Chamber by the municipality was not all tourism related.

In the absence of an economic development department at the municipality, the Chamber was contracted for many years to provide economic development support by means of conducting studies, promotion of the municipality, and various other projects associated with economic development.

Those projects came to an end a few years ago under the management of then-CAO Frank Miele, when the municipality decided to terminate economic development contracts with the Chamber in favour of bringing those activities under the roof of the municipal office and hiring an economic development professional.

A significant portion of the $1.2 million the Chamber received in fee-for-service contracts over the last 15 years was for economic development, not tourism services.

The Chamber office has also operated Meaford's Welcome Centre for visitors inside the oversized apple on Sykes Street, and it is the contract for that service – operating the visitor information booth, greeting visitors, and directing those visitors to Meaford's various points of interest – that council recently opted to terminate.

That contract with the Chamber was negotiated three years ago after a Request For Proposal was issued by the municipality. The Chamber was the successful bidder on the contract, and an agreement was signed to provide the service for two years at a cost of roughly $50,000 each year.

It was reviewed by municipal staff, who determined that the contract was fulfilled to their expectations and was re-signed early in 2013. The term of the contract was to be in effect until December 31, 2014, and the CAO, Denyse Morrissey, had told the Chamber on two separate occasions during the budget process that it was secure, according to the Chamber.

At the Council meeting on December 9, 2013, at which the 2014 budget was passed, a motion was brought forward by Councillor Stephens to amend the budget by terminating the Welcome Centre contract without cause and with 90 days’ notice. A part of that motion also directed staff to bring forward a plan to deliver tourism services in-house with the expectation that there would be cost savings. Normal procedures would have staff provide a report with full disclosure of the background and implications of an issue, before, not after, such a decision was made by Council,” said the Chamber in its statement.

While they have lost the visitor services contract, the Chamber wants local business owners to know that they are still the representatives for businesses.

The Chamber of Commerce’s role to support their members through promotion, networking and member benefits will remain unchanged. We will maintain a strong presence in the community with Chamber Manager Maryann Wark, and will continue to build partnerships through signature events like the Community Awards and Dragon’s Den. An increased focus will be our advocacy role for our members,” stated the Chamber.

The Chamber's Annual General Meeting will take place at 7:00 p.m. on February 19, at the Meaford Golf Course.

To learn more, and to offer your comments and suggestions as we move forward, we encourage your participation and appreciate your continued support,” said the Chamber.