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Owners question chamber in print

One of the two Tarpon businessmen who published the Chamber Disconnect says the chamber of commerce is trying to run his business out of town.

By NORA KOCH
Published May 22, 2005


TARPON SPRINGS - At first glance, the flier that showed up in local business owners' mail boxes last month looked like the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce's old newsletter, the Chamber Connection.

Actually, it was the Chamber Disconnect.

The renegade publication featured headlines like "Chamber President Attempts to Have Local Business Owner Arrested," "A Call To Action" and "My Integrity is still Intact."

Two disgruntled businessmen spent $1,000 on the eight-page, color flier to go public with a litany of gripes about chamber operations and their efforts to unseat its leadership. The chamber, which has about 400 members, denies the allegations and has kicked out one of the Disconnect's publishers, Tim Dorr, the owner of Sun N' Fun Maps.

When Dorr and Dale Jacquay, owner of the Rustic Apple Shipping Co., took their cases to the court of public opinion, Tarpon Springs began to buzz.

But few will talk publicly about the dispute.

No comment, said the mayor.

"These two entities have just declared war," Mayor Beverley Billiris said. "It's a battle I don't want to get into the middle of."

No comment, said the president of the Tarpon Springs Business Alliance, a chamber-like group that promotes the businesses on Tarpon Avenue.

No comment from chamber president Tj Davis, at the direction of the chamber's executive committee, she said.

"We've kind of put the matter behind us," said chamber board chairman Dr. Mike R. Marcell.

But attorney Justin G. Joseph, who is not a chamber member and represents the organization against Sun N' Fun Maps, defended his client.

"The chamber just wants to get back to business and move on, and they don't need any disruptive forces," Joseph said.

Dorr, whose membership was terminated against his wishes this month, alleges the chamber is trying to run him and his tourist map business out of town. He says the chamber reneged this year on an agreement to help him sell advertising for his map, which features cartoon drawings of various city attractions, in exchange for 15 percent of his revenue.

The chamber says Dorr didn't pay up this year, so officials decided the chamber would start its own map, according to the chamber's newly redesigned newsletter. As differences about sharing the revenue emerged, Dorr told the chamber there was no written contract for the arrangement, so the chamber felt free to find another mapmaker, the newsletter said.

Then it got messy.

On March 18, Dorr says, he went to the chamber office to get a set of member mailing labels. He said that chamber president Davis refused to give him the labels, then called police, who showed up at the chamber's office but declared it a civil matter. Dorr has since been warned through his attorney not to enter chamber property.

An anonymous person using the name "Committee for Equal Treatment" sent a letter to the city in April saying Dorr did not have the requisite business license to operate in Tarpon Springs. Dorr quickly resolved the matter, then pointed out to the city that the chamber was operating an administrative office and a welcome center without the required permits. The city then asked the chamber to get those permits.

Jacquay, 34, tells of how he was originally contracted to design and print the Chamber Connection, but the deal fell through. Jacquay, who is still a chamber member, thinks it is because he is linked to a former chamber president.

Dorr and Jacquay also say the chamber is run like a "good old boys club" and question an attempt by the leadership to make changes to the bylaws that the pair say would cut the general membership out of the process to elect leadership.

Dorr, 29, who has been in the map business in Pinellas County for seven years, says he doesn't want to land on the chamber's leadership board himself. He says the chamber has rejected his attempts to mediate the map scuffle, and he just wants to see the chamber get down to helping local businesses thrive, rather than being a divisive local entity.

"People are sending in their membership dues with the expectation that it will be used to promote Tarpon Springs and their business," Dorr said, "but it is being used on legal fees."

Dorr and Jacquay are investing a substantial amount of time and energy into their fight, with a second edition of the Chamber Disconnect on the way and plans to launch a Web site next month.

"People are coming out of the woodwork voicing support for what we're doing," Dorr said. Some local businesses want to pay for advertising in the next issue of the Disconnect, he said.

The chamber and its issues are bizarre, said Victoria Sidlauskas, the regional business development director of Suwannee Medical Personnel. Her company's chamber membership is up for renewal soon and she's not sure if she'll join again.

"You kind of get the impression that the only reason you're there is because they want your money, not because they want your input," she said.

Barber and former chamber member Bruce D'Amico, who owns 4Him Contemporary Barbering, said the chamber is not merchant-friendly and isn't fulfilling its mandate to promote Tarpon Springs. But, at best, Dorr's and Jacquay's approach seems "unprofessional" and has brought them down to the same level as the chamber, said D'Amico, who left the chamber two years ago.

Now, while the two men work on their Web site and future editions of the Disconnect, chamber chairman Marcell says the matter has more or less blown over.

"We're in the middle of coming to a conclusion," he said. "This isn't news."

Nora Koch can be reached at nkoch@sptimes.com or 727 771-4304.

[Last modified May 22, 2005, 01:07:21]


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