Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Collette has been granted a leave of absence following accusations of bias in his role as moderator at a recent all-candidates meeting.
The chamber hosted three all-candidates meetings at RimRock Casino on three consecutive evenings Oct. 4-6, allowing candidates in the municipal election for ACRD, School District 70-Pacific Rim and the City of Port Alberni time to share their platforms and take a few questions at the end of the evenings. During the mayoral candidates’ portion of the final evening Collette directed a number of questions to Tom Verbrugge, which audience members took exception to, and accused Collette of bias.
The next morning director Carol-Anne Zanette, who was a council candidate, resigned from the chamber board. Other business owners stated on social media that they were removing, reviewing or holding back their decision on renewing membership.
Collette, who has worked with the chamber for a decade, posted a public apology on the chamber’s website in the days following the all-candidates meeting. He also spoke with Verbrugge to apologize personally. Verbrugge did not accept his apology.
In a letter posted publicly on Oct. 17, chamber representatives said “these events did not meet the expectations of the community, our members and our partners. The board is committed to doing better and will review our policies to ensure transparency for our membership and the public, while creating clear expectations and protocols for future events.”
In the meantime, Elliot Drew has returned to the chamber and taken on day-to-day operations in Collette’s place. Drew had already been hired as operations manager for McLean Mill and started Oct. 11. He had previously been working at the Alberni Valley News as a salesperson.
Chamber president Suzanne Dubé said the chamber board met “to review and consider the impact of the handling of these events by our CEO. I appreciate their respectful consideration given to the many diverse points of view expressed by our board members, community, members and partners,” she wrote in a letter sent to municipal election candidates, chamber members, local government officials and media.
Dubé said she hopes the open letter serves “to reassure the community that the chamber board is unanimously committed to doing better.”