T he effort it would take the Lacey-Thurston Chamber of Commerce to continue with talks of merging the three area chambers was too much for it to handle, its executive director says.

That’s why the Lacey chamber recently pulled out of a joint task force designed to study the feasibility of merging the chambers in Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia.

“The talks were all very cordial,” Luke says. “They were all surprised we pulled out so early. It wasn’t that we were saying, ‘This is stupid,’ it’s that we ought to put this on the shelf right now.”

The Lacey Chamber voted to withdraw after the third meeting of the Consolidation Task Force. Luke declined to provide a breakdown of the vote other than to say a majority were against the proposed merger.

“Right now our priority should be getting the Lacey Chamber back in order,” says Luke, who is working with new executive director Deborah Haskett to reorganize the Chamber and resolve its fiscal problems.

Luke also is named in a gender-based harassment suit by former executive director Penny Batts that he declines to comment on, citing instructions from his attorney.

Batts resigned from the Chamber earlier this year and was replaced by Haskett.

Haskett has said that after Batts and her staff left the Chamber, fiscal records were found to be in disarray.

Luke says the effort of merging chambers is considerable, from what he’s seen of the examples set by other chambers such as in Lewis County.

“It’s not something we want to invest in anymore,” he says.

Jon M. Jones, co-chair of the task force looking at the issue and immediate past president of the Olympia /Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, says he is disappointed by Lacey’s withdrawal but that Olympia and Tumwater Chambers will forge ahead with talks over consolidation.

“Tumwater and Olympia have agreed to continue,” says Jones, who is also executive vice president of Lacey-based First Community Bank, which has branches in all three cities.

“It’s an opportunity for us as it always has been to explore what the benefits are going to be for our members,” says Jones. “We’re disappointed Lacey has chosen to withdraw from the process before fully exploring the benefits.”

“Our people will continue to look at it until all the pros and cons are in,” adds Anita Purdy, executive director of the Tumwater Chamber, “then we’ll take it to the Board.”

“We’re going to go ahead and look at how it might be done and what the benefits would be to the members. It’s possible both organizations will reach some sort of mutual agreement,” says Jones.

Jones says the task force plans to have at least three more meetings involving representatives from other chambers that have consolidated, such as the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber and The Chamber in Lewis County.

“Then if they feel that’s enough, the next step would be to look at putting together an organizational structure and a dues structure and to find all the logistical issues that would be involved. Who knows how many meetings that could take.”

Jones says one of the potential benefits of consolidating would be that members would only need to pay membership dues to one organization.

“There are other benefits equally important to members who aren’t paying membership to the three chambers,” Jones adds. “There would be having a united voice, more networking opportunities, a lot of things.”

There have been five failed attempts to combine the chambers over the past 30 years, says Luke, who does not rule out a future attempt at consolidation.

“We may have to come back and revisit this some time in the future,” Luke says. “But in just three meetings, we bore out how complicated something like that could be. It’s really not easy, is the conclusion I came to.”

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff