IRON RIVER— “I love my community, I love my job. But when I get to the point where I feel I’m being harassed, I have to move on.”
After a series of disputes, the Iron County Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new executive director at the start of the summer tourism season … and Bob Black is looking for a new job.
On June 2, Black gave his two-week notice that he is resigning the executive director job he took in September 2011. At that time, he was given a two-year contract. But when the Chamber Board delayed a decision about renewing the agreement last year, Black said, clouds started to gather.
“It seems like myself and the board of directors, we don’t get along,” Black said during an interview late last week. “This has been going on for more than a year.”
When his contract came up for renewal, Black said, one director suggested extending it to January 2014, when a new fiscal year would start.
“Which is fine moneywise,” said Black, “but my contract is still my contract, and I told them that was unacceptable. We never did resolve that.” Black worked without a contract until resigning.
Others told Black to stick up for himself at board meetings, but Black said that didn’t seem to go over well. “The board did not understand where I was coming from. I don’t believe they still do.”
Another source of problems came when Black represented Iron County at major outdoor tourism shows in Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison
and Wausau. One board member, he said, felt “that I can work 12-hour days, pack up and come home the same night and then work the next day. That’s a 22-hour day.
“It’s not acceptable. You can’t do that. When you’re working 12-hour days, you have to have days off. And then the travel time. They don’t understand that.”
The same problem with time off also affects local events. “I can’t work a weekend event and be in the office five days. And a lot of our events here are on the weekend. So if I’m working a long weekend, I’m going to have to have some time off, too.
”I can’t burn the candle at both ends.”
Some board members, he noted, have not liked some of the publicity coming from the chamber, “because it’s around ‘Bob.’ They think it should be a ‘we.’ But a lot of times, at these events, they’re not there to help. Only a handful help, and it’s always the same few.
“But I’m going to stick up for them [the chamber directors], also. It’s a volunteer board. They all have businesses. They can’t volunteer all the time. But then again, I’m looking at, ‘Well, then they shouldn’t complain.’”
Black said some chamber directors wanted to micromanage his position. “As board members, they’re not supposed to interfere with day-to-day actions—they [only] make policy. But they’re wanting to be more of a hands-on, day-by-day.”
A new personnel policy, he noted, calls for the director to be behind the desk at the chamber office from 9 to 5. “That’s telling me that these events that we’ve been promoting are not going to happen anymore,” referring to events like the Blues Festival in Alpha, the Father’s Day weekend concert and garage sale/flea market.
Black himself served on the chamber board in the past, joining in 1995 with Chet Benson when Dan Robbins was director. “It’s been a while.”
The chamber board currently has 12 members. It had 15 before being downsized. “I brought that up from day one. Even a five or seven-person board is about right for this area, because when you get too many chiefs, you don’t have enough Indians.” He thinks that could have caused some of the static—different board members have different priorities.
Some board members, he added, have left because of disputes among board members and between the board and himself.
Since his resignation became known, Black said he has been “humbled” by the support he has received. “The local community is really coming out and supporting my efforts. They’ve seen the efforts.”
He also showed a copy of a “special tribute” in his honor from the state, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Sen. Tom Casperson and Rep. Scott Dianda. It was presented during the dogsled races last winter. “They recognized what’s been going on. That was pretty nice. That’s only the icing on the cake.”
Now what? Black said he hasn’t decided. “No future goals at this time. I don’t have a new job, nothing to speak of. I have irons in the fire, but nothing burning right now.”
As he spoke, he still had a few final duties for the chamber, mainly the Father’s Day weekend events. Black said he would be working hard at them.
“I’m still there,” he said. “I’m still going to be part of the community.”