By Matt de Simone
The Botetourt Chamber of Commerce held a special town hall meeting at Rader Funeral Home last Thursday evening in Daleville addressing the entity’s current standing.
In September, the chamber announced that Khari Ryder was “no longer employed” as the organization’s executive director. This decision led many in the county wondering what was going on internally at the chamber.
Chamber President David Williams ran the audience through a timeline of events that led to Ryder’s removal. He explained that following an annual financial report in July from an outside CPA, the chamber noticed “a discrepancy” which wasn’t initially reported by the accountant. The chamber’s executive committee “began to ask questions,” according to Williams. At that point in time, the chamber president claimed that the former executive director told the committee that the chamber “didn’t need to be audited” despite the chamber’s bylaws stating that “the treasurer of the chamber is to cause an audit annually.”
“No matter what my personal relationship might have been with the former executive director, or with anyone, if that person is starting to get hedgy about having an audit, my gut says, we’re going to have an audit,” Williams said.
He shared that the purpose of the audit is to get information. The chamber recently discovered it’s low on funds.
“We don’t have as much money as we thought we did,” Williams shared. “We have Brown Edwards (accounting services) looking into the books and due to some other personnel issues, we thought it was best to terminate our relationship with our executive director (in September)… We did that with the advice of counsel.”
Williams said that the chamber wanted to be “good stewards” in protecting the investments of its members and wanted to make sure they were doing things “by the book.” He shared the chamber additionally parted ways with its former CPA.
“I can’t really say much more than that right now because everything is under active investigation with the Botetourt County Sheriff’s Office,” Williams added. “What I want to stress to everyone: those of us on the board, those of us on the executive committee feel very strongly that it’s not the chamber’s money, it’s your money. We, as board members, are to be the stewards of that money, faith, and trust you place into this organization. We have a lot of great things going for us.”
Williams said that he saw a “realization” during the most recent meeting of membership that there is still much to be excited about when envisioning the chamber’s future. He discovered the former executive director made “promises” to paying members but shared that he nor the executive committee didn’t know what those promises entail.
He opened the floor to questions from the meeting’s attendees. He credited the “knowledge bank” of individuals who were in the room last Thursday night. Williams received a few questions that ranged from personnel and budget matters to the return of a weekly newsletter.
One member asked about the chamber’s “plan for 2024.” Williams said that he and the executive committee “want to get our house in order” first and also want to know what chamber members want for the upcoming year.
Executive committee member Emily Bailey shared that the chamber is still “strong” and it continues planning for upcoming events while reassessing the current situation and what they’ve done in the past in preparation for possible changes in the future. They’re currently welcoming feedback from its members.