Mesa touts successes with Chamber

1/8/2013

Former president mum on what led to his resignation.

Former president mum on what led to his resignation.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

While the reasons for Reynaldo Mesa's resignation as president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce are not being made public, both Mesa and Chamber members are speaking about some of the changes and accomplishments the organization experienced during his year at the helm.

Mesa declined to comment about the circumstances surrounding his resignation, which was announced Dec. 31 and effective immediately.

"All I'm going to tell you is it was mutually agreed that we go our separate ways. I think the important thing is what we were able to accomplish," Mesa said.

He did say that he thinks his successor will be in a position to move the organization forward.

"The table has been set for the incoming president just to run and grow the organization. All he has to do is grow it," he said.

Mesa said that he believes Chamber members should not only be aware of, but also have input into, how the annual membership fees they pay are utilized.

"Because people invest in this organization with their dollars, be it a membership or a sponsorship, they need to know that their money is being spent well. And I can tell you this, the year I was there, it has been," he said.

According to Mesa, several things were accomplished in the past year, but his first priority was to stabilize the organization after its split from the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau, funded by a local guest tax, in November 2011.

"As a result of that separation, you have collateral damage. Financially, things get in turmoil ... so coming in, that was a priority, was get through that separation, stabilize the organization," he said.

Additionally, Mesa said, he assembled a team of employees, Vice President Myca Bunch, Gift Certificate Program Coordinator Diane Keller, Accounts Payable/Bookkeeper Mary Wilson, and most recently, Administrative Assistant Sylvia Lira, to help him realign the organization and get it going in a new direction.

Phil Black, director of communications at JRI Management, Salina, the organization that manages Garden City's Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers restaurant, said he's had positive dealings with the Chamber. He said as both an outsider to Garden City and as someone who serves on Salina's Chamber of Commerce board, he was impressed at how much Garden City's Chamber was able to accomplish with its relatively small staff size in helping set up the new Freddy's location.

"Rey and Myca went to bat (for us) and then they put together that whole banquet, and again I was thinking, 'They only have five people. I don't know how they do all this,'" Black said. "I just was very, very impressed with what they did out there, with very little, from what I could see."

Mesa said that he valued the input of his staff members because he believes in collaboration.

"That's how you get things done, by coming together as a team and figuring out how to solve problems," he said.

Mesa said he also changed the accounting method the Chamber was using, from accrual-based to cash-based. Cash-based accounting records income when cash is received and records expenses when cash is paid out. After getting approval from the board for the switch, he said the financial picture was much clearer.

"That's what I did with my team, having true financial information that was available to the board so that they were able to make decisions based on that information," he said.

Another improvement, according to Mesa, was with the gift certificate program.

"The other thing we were able to do was the gift certificate program — there were some issues with that. That is a very important program to the Chamber, to the business community, because it's a buy-local program and that's something that needs to be marketed, that's something that needs to be grown. We started doing that," he said, adding that the Chamber installed a new software program that helped track the number of outstanding certificates in circulation, so that they could ensure sufficient funds were available when people starting redeeming them.

While changing the accounting method and getting the gift certificate program in order, Mesa said he and his staff also increased membership in the Chamber.

"We slowly picked up members. By the time I was done for this year, we were at 49. That's probably the largest number they've had a for a long time," he said.

Mesa said he attributes much of that increase to communicating with local business owners about his vision for the Chamber, which was to transform the Chamber into being less event-focused and more business-focused, as well as his intent to continue marketing and promoting local business. In addition, he said he encouraged business owners to actively participate in Chamber breakfasts and after-hours events, which Mesa said also grew in attendance last year.

"To me, our breakfasts were bigger, more people in attendance and that position to me is someone who needs to be very in tune with our community, and Rey was that," Della Brandenberger, Chamber member, owner of the AmericInn Hotel, 3020 East Kansas Ave., and incoming 2013 board member said. "We had a retreat in December, and I made that comment that I think it's important to have a director who's in tune with the people of Garden City, and we are a very diverse community, so you have to have somebody with a lot of diversity, education and experience, and Rey has that. I thought he was an asset to the Chamber, and I really hate to see him go."

Brian Rupp, owner of The Good Sport, 220 N. Main St., said he thought Mesa had a fresh approach to the position.

"I was kind of sad to see that he was going to go because 20 years of being a member, I had never seen them do more of a grass roots — getting out and seeing what members thought, what they could do to help members — like he did. I was a little sad to see that because I think that is what the Chamber is really supposed to be, so I think he was bringing a personal touch that was very needed. The biggest thing is I think he listened, comprehended and acted where I guarantee you, other ones haven't listened, comprehended and acted," Rupp said.

He also said that he hopes Mesa's replacement is as rooted in the community as Mesa is.

"I think it would be really nice if they found someone from the community because if you don't know what Garden City is about, it's kind of, to me, a hard thing to get in and be a leader in that position," Rupp said. "I'm not a real active Chamber member, but he (Mesa) reached out and came in and talked to me and understood things that I would say to him, and I think that's real important. I think too much of the Chamber, in my opinion, is a clique of a couple of handfuls of people, and they do more of something for a handful vs. something that's for all of (us), so I think he brought a very fresh approach and he's going to be missed."

Brandenburger said because she is an incoming board member, she was not present when Mesa tendered his resignation and did not know what led to his decision.

Darwin McClung, outgoing vice chair of the Chamber and division manager at Hutton Construction, 1507 East Fulton St., said he was unable to comment either, as he wasn't involved in the conversation leading up to Mesa resigning.

Debbie Reynolds, chairman of the Chamber board, was unavailable for comment regarding Mesa's contributions to the Chamber in 2012, but Interim President Myca Bunch confirmed that membership increased, event attendance increased, the gift certificate program was revamped and the accounting method was changed.

Mesa said that in 2013, as Chamber president, his plans included attending city and county commission meetings, economic development meetings, increasing the Chamber's involvement with the city's development office, and to testify on behalf of businesses at the Statehouse.

"I've testified on legislation ... I feel very comfortable doing that. Those are some of the things I was going to start doing," Mesa said.

As for future career plans, Mesa said he is weighing his options, which because of his background could encompass either returning to the business world or remaining in politics.

"I've had a variety of things that I've done, and that bodes well for me. I think that's what makes me a well-rounded individual, and so my options are open at this time," he said. "I like politics. I gave up my position (as state representative) to run the Chamber, and so therefore, I may look at politics again down the road."

Mesa came to the Chamber in the midst of a two-year term as state representative, and after 12 years as a city commissioner. He was a three-time mayor of Garden City, and a public affairs officer with Cox Communications for more than 10 years.

Reynolds said that the board will be assembling a search committee to start the process of finding Mesa's replacement. Until then, Bunch will serve as interim president.

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