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Exodus at Flagler Chamber of Commerce As Four Staffers Resign in Four Weeks

| November 16, 2011

flagler county chamber of commerce

The way out from the chamber. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s not what it looks like.

“In less than 30 days, I had four people sitting in my office telling me Doug, it’s time for me to move on,” Doug Baxter said this afternoon. That morning, he was before the Flagler County Tourist Development Council, hearing council members lament the loss of two of those staffers, whose salaries are paid by the county’s 4 percent bed tax. The loss of the other two staffers was not talked about, since it wasn’t relevant to TDC business.

But in four weeks, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce lost more than a quarter of its staff of 14.

Peggy Heiser, the chamber’s vice president for tourism development—and the TDC’s executive—announced her resignation almost four weeks ago, citing family priorities. Today, the TDC learned that Heiser’s No. 2, Laura Gamba, was also resigning. She’ll be gone after Thanksgiving. In non-TDC related posts, Laurent Walsh, the chamber’s comptroller, has also resigned. And Nick Langille, in charge of membership services, is also leaving.

Baxter anticipated the inevitable reaction: It must have something to do with him. “It’s got nothing to do with me, but perception becomes reality out there in the marketplace,” Baxter said.

Langille is leaving because he’s moving to North Carolina, where his companion, out of work for three years, has found a job. Same story with Walsh: she and her boyfriend closed on a house in Melbourne just yesterday.

“Laura,” Baxter said, “is going to Daytona, to a time-share, she’s going to be the marketing manager there, she’s going to also market leisure for the resort she’s going to market for. It’s a step up for her. She’s going to be paid more. She doesn’t want me to talk about this but she’s going to be getting married before too long and her and her husband have talked at length about this—or her husband to be—and I don’t ever wish that someone is not going to move up the ladder over time.”

Gamba’s job with the chamber and the TDC required her to travel a lot (she was just back from Montreal). She was looking to travel less.

“I’m not real happy losing any of my staff,” Baxter said, but the resumes have come in—even though not in the quantity or with the quality Baxter was looking for—and second interviews have either taken place or are scheduled for candidates for the comptroller job. Christina Gardner, an information specialist at the chamber, is moving up to the membership job. Heiser’s position was filled earlier this month by Georgia Turner, formerly of the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Turner, not Baxter, will hire Gamba’s replacement.

For the TDC, Gamba’s resignation revived talk of salaries and the reasons behind the resignations. In August, Heiser had asked for a 7.7 percent raise for herself and 6 percent raises for Gamba and another staffer. The TDC recommended that the raises be granted, but the county commission, which ratifies (or amends or rejects) all TDC decisions, rejected the proposal, leaving Heiser’s salary at $65,000 and Gamba’s at $35,000.


“Is this an indication that we have some issues with compensation?” Andy Bl;air, one of the TDC’s members, asked this morning—and answered: “I think it’s something the board needs to discuss and make sure we are where we need to be, to have retention and continuance with these positions. But it raises a big flag at this point that there might be an issue here.”

Baxter stepped in: “I’m the one that recommended that Peggy bring forth the pay increases based on what she does and what the market bears out there. But let me assure you: with Laura and Peggy leaving, it had nothing to do with pay. Just so you know. I’ve sat down with both of them and talked to that specifically. At some point, based on what we’re doing here in Flagler County this will come up at some point. Hopefully you will take a look at it and move forward with it there. This has nothing to do with pay.”

milissa holland flagler county commission flaglerlive

Milissa Holland (© FlaglerLive)

Milissa Holland, who chairs the TDC,. Supported the pay raises and was Heiser’s closest ally, said: “I’ve talked to Peggy regularly since she’s left. To know Peggy and understand where her priorities are in life and to understand how important her family is, it really was a decision based on her family. As much as she misses all of us, and she does—I know we’ve gone through a little separation anxiety she and I because we worked together so closely—you can hear it in her voice, she’s very happy, her husband is thriving in his business.”

Pam Walker, another member of the council, had also talked to Heiser at length. “I think working as hard as they have and increasing our bed taxes as they have for them, it’s human nature for them to come and ask for an increase and then not get it. I think as much as we want to say that didn’t influence in the back of anyone’s head, I think that would influence a little bit. And I would hope that if this council votes outright to approve a budget the next time around, that pieces of it are not taken out and diverted, because I think if indeed these people are not commensurated at the rate of other people in their field are, it’s going to influence us and it’s going to have a negative impact on this county in the end if we don’t keep up the pace with other people in the industry.”

Yet even as several members of the council warned of losing good talent with its current pay structure, and suggesting that some form of bonuses should be offered up in the future, if not outright pay increases, it was congratulating the chamber—and itself—for Turner’s hire. Turner is coming in at the same salary. Turner, Baxter reminded the council, “is excited that we’re a stable county with regard to tourism where if you look in Volusia County for example, it’s not, it’s up and down like a yo-yo. So we’re moving in the right direction here.”

Bob DeVore, the only member of the council who’d voted against recommending raises, said he’d done so because large increases had been approved in previous years, and he couldn’t justify additional ones this year. “The county commission for once made the right choice,” DeVore said, unleashing one of his frequent backhands at the commission.

“I’m glad it was for once. Thank you for the compliment,” Holland said with an acid laugh.

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13 Responses for “Exodus at Flagler Chamber of Commerce As Four Staffers Resign in Four Weeks”

  1. roco says:

    In this economy and with our present leadership in the county, city and school board I can’t blame them, for there’s noting to promote. Look at who was voted in, in our most resent election to our city council..A lobbyist. Is this a great city or WHAT..

  2. Charles Ericksen, Jr says:

    It’s been my experience that anyone who is young, performing and learning a job, is alway looking for more than the challenge they are involved with now. If you sit back awaiting the phone to ring, it’s not going to. The more the opportunities, the more versalite the employee becomes. The stop at the Chamber is but one step in these folks lives. I know all four of them, and they will do well, in an up or down employment market. They did make the Chamber a better place by their contribution. Mr. Baxter’s job is to develope people, who will initially perform the needs of the Chamber and move on to greener pastures. He did contibute to their success, and he will hire new employees, who will pick up the pace and take the Chamber even higher. Best wishes.to the four…..

  3. real people says:

    My regards to Mr Baxter, he has been there for me as a small business man. I wish the best for everyone, as productive people have to move on to improve their financial wealth and provide for their families. After all it is the American way. My best wishes to every one.

  4. Sarah says:

    @Charles and real people:

    I completely agree with both of you. In this economy I find it amazing that the Chamber’s employees have remained and thrived as long as they have. I wish them well in their new adventures and wish Mr. Baxter well in the difficult task of trying to replace them. To Mr. Baxter, I am a single working mom that would like to thank you and the chamber for your humanitarian efforts…..I have personally benefited from them and will never be able to thank you enough! God bless you all!

  5. SAW says:

    Yea, it’s the economy for sure. I just heard that the Feds are now requiring all illegal’s crossing our borders bring a “covered dish” with them ?

  6. Just my 2 cents worth says:

    People come and people go. it is tough when more go then come, Thw board may neeed to look at a restructure of people and their jobs. Maybe the chamber could do more with less people. A complete evaluation of each job and their responsibilities needs to be looked at starting with Mr. Baxter

  7. Silent no more says:

    I’m a little more suspicious then most of you. Something is not right.. 4 people in 4 weeks? Hmm, makes you think.

  8. Sarah says:

    @just my 2 and silent….

    Seriously? Do you know these employees? Do you know the retention numbers at the chamber? Have you talked to any of the employees and asked them about job satisfaction? Stop being so negative and get your facts before you ASSume the worst!!!! I have been fortunate enough to have met some of the chamber employees and they seem very satisfied with their jobs…..And FYI, they are hard working, lovely people!

  9. Silent no more says:

    @Sarah………

    Must have struck a nerve. I mearly said, “I’m a little more suspicious”. Nothing more, nothing less.

    There are many hard working lovely people around, which has nothing to do with the reasons they left.

  10. Maria says:

    Congrats to all! It is great to hear that they have found jobs to move onto and grow their careers. Good luck to you all. I know its hard to move on when you are in a good environment, but sometimes life pulls you in other directions. Good Luck to you all.

  11. Just my 2 cents worth says:

    @Sarah, I am just saying that it would be a good time to reevaluate the chambers jobs. I am not saying that they are not good people. I am sure they are. When 1/4 of your staff leaves that raises a red flag. It may be time the board starts taking a good hard look at what is going on.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Maybe when FCCO(U)O will go back to be the real Chamber of Commerce that used to be, other than today’s Chamber of Outsourcing and political follies, with the over staffed crew and boss Baxter and his cheering crowd on the current Board, maybe then image, membership and employees satisfaction will improve.

  13. Doug Chozianin says:

    What has the Chamber of Commerce done for Flagler County lately?

    The only thing of significance that I can remember with regard to driving economic-development dollars is the Ginn Debacle (well, one of them): “FCCOC built a $2 million luxurious hangar-and-office building for the Ginn development corporation in exchange for Ginn’s pledge to lease the building for 20 years, only to see Ginn bail on the building–and leave county (and Palm Coast) taxpayers paying $20,000 a month for a massive, empty building in a depressed market with no takers.”

    I did a google search for “FCCOC ACCOMPLISHMENTS” It got ZERO results!

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