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Oct 30 2011

Chamber of Commerce Concerns and Abuse

I am writing to share my growing concerns regarding how the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber is currently being operated and managed. As a local business owner and past Chamber member, I am troubled by the waste, mismanagement and failure of leadership that are taking place on a number of levels.

I believe it is time we all take a deep look at how our Chamber is being operated. The Chamber should be using our membership dues wisely and responsibly, with total accountability and transparency regarding how revenue is being used and spent. We need to look deep at fiduciary responsibilities of Board Members and abuse of spending public funds and members’ dues. I am sure many local lawyers will be looking at all this.

The Chamber/CVB works for area business owners and needs to fully support all of us by operating within a reasonable budget and in a responsible way as each of us run our own for-profit companies. Here are some of my major concerns:

1) Excessive spending. The Chamber’s President and CEO Bill Miles has an excessive salary that is exorbitant by any measure. He earns $315,000 per year plus benefits, expenses and other perks, which perhaps take his annual income closer to $400,000. The national average for a comparable Chamber of Commerce leadership position is $166,000, and even less for cities with populations under 50,000 like Hilton Head Island. An abusive salary anyway you try and justify it, like our current Board members have attempted to do. Bill Miles seems to have been successful surrounding himself with people who are willing to approve this abuse. Salaries of our other leaders are: SC Gov - $106K, Pres. Obama - $400K, Local Mayor - $10K. Is Bill Miles more important than these leaders? Just imagine – it takes 1000 members at $400 per year membership just to cover the salary of Bill Miles, not to mention the other 22 salaries.

2) Poor planning. Building a costly new Welcome Center in the Internet age makes little sense when Welcome Centers across South Carolina and around the country are being shut down. Revised plans call for a building that will cost $583 per square foot. Commercial buildings in foreclosure in the area can be purchased at $50 per square foot or less. A luxury home with all amenities can be built at $200 per square foot or less. Extreme abuse of funds anyway you turn it. This warrants further investigation.

3) Lack of transparency. There are many questions about how the Chamber spends taxpayer revenue. This organization has not made public detailed information regarding marketing, advertising and other important expenditures. If tax monies are going to be given to the Chamber, the public has the right to know the details. Why would anyone invest their money in a company without having complete details on how revenue will be spent and the return on that investment?

4) Unfair competition. The Chamber/CVB should not directly compete with members, since it is a non-profit 501-C3 organization with a mission to support local businesses. The Chamber currently operates for-profit , arms length ventures, and sells advertising on hiltonheadisland.org and magazines, which directly competes with a number of locally-based companies who are Chamber members. Now, in the past, the Chamber has announced plans for free classified advertisements and has considered distributing a restaurant guide through area hotels. These actions are in direct competition and direct conflict with the Chamber’s existing media members, depleting local advertising budgets that would otherwise be spent with local media members. In the age of the Internet, Chamber magazines should be discontinued, 22 employees reduced. Hiltonheadisland.org should simply be an online business directory promoting local business members, which can provide all local and tourism information, much better than the Chamber as for-profit free enterprise companies.

Have we all been hustled by the greatest salesmen on Hilton Head Island? How is it possible for our business and community leaders to stand by and allow this to continue? Are the current Board members liable to all of us? Many questions and answers needed.

The Chamber’s role is to promote Hilton Head Island as a travel destination and to help members grow their companies locally with educational seminars, business expos, etc. The Chamber’s mission is to support local businesses, not spend excessively on salaries at the expense of dues paying members and taxpayers. Like the government, they must learn to operate on what they have and not at the expense of others.

I would like to offer several solutions to the problems detailed above for everyone’s consideration.

First, we need a separate Chamber and CVB, both of which are totally transparent to all of us, with people paid to operate these entities properly. The Chamber’s Board of Directors should be made up of local business leaders with track records of success and the CVB’s Board of Directors should be comprised of tourism industry leaders and destination marketing experts, not lawyers, insurance companies, accountants, etc. Running both entities together is simply not working for any of us, and what we are getting is abusive at best.

Second, local media Chamber members should be invited to be part of a Chamber of Commerce Marketing Committee. The committee will study in depth the details of where and how the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce spends revenue for marketing. This must be examined by professionals and a committee made up of local experts with full knowledge of technology and internet marketing, not members who do not fully understand this business and what they are approving, with no track record of success.

Third, we need to see full details of accounting and/or conduct a full audit. This information should be available to all Chamber members. Full details concerning expenditures, including all sources of income, expenses, salaries and bonuses, travel expenses, etc. should be public information, for all 22 employees.

Fourth, the salary structure at the Chamber must be examined and revised. No executive working for the Chamber, which is a non-profit organization, should be making more than $300,000 or almost 4 times our Governor of South Carolina at $106K or equal to our U.S. President at $400 K.

These problems will not be fixed until we make some serious changes. We are in desperate need of a house cleaning at the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. Please email your concerns to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you are interested in being part of the solution. Also contact local Chamber Board members, namely David Tigges and John Vann, titled executive committee, they both have some explaining to do, also send letters to the Editor at the Island Packet.

Note : this is nationwide abusive practices by many Chambers / CVB’s and needs to be headline news. Members can fight back and send a loud and clear message and simply not join until this stops and is cleaned up. Remember, local Chambers are all independent, owned by the members, not a franchise. To simply join with a sense of community support with no clear return on your investment and worse all the abuse, is simply senseless, abusive and wasteful. Perhaps the only good thing that comes from a bad economy is making all of us look deeply at the waste in our own lives as well as the waste and abuse around us.

We want to hear from you!

Send your responses to stopchamberabuse@hargray.com and state if you wish to be private or if your email can be published to this website.

You've Raised Very Serious Questions

I feel that you have raised some very serious questions about how our Chamber is being run and where the money is being spent to market our island and the businesses that support our Chamber.

Additionally, your questions raise the possibility that the Chamber board is a "hand-picked" board that continues to perpetuate the abuses alleged in your complaints. As such, an independent committee, made up of chamber members, needs to be chosen and convened to address your concerns immediately.

Those are my thoughts and you may advertise them as such.....

Kim D.