2014-12-26 / Front Page

Chamber director resigns

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — They say it’s three strikes and you’re out, but the local chamber of commerce is up to bat once more as it begins a search for its fourth executive director in as many years.

On Friday, Dec. 12, chamber President David “Duffy” Cluff issued a press release announcing Denise Clavette would step down from the group’s top job effective Jan. 16, after just 14 months on the job.

“This was not our decision. This was totally a surprise for us,” said Cluff, on Dec. 15. “Everyone on the board enjoyed Denise and was happy with the direction and everything she was doing for us.”

Some of the board’s surprise was fueled by the fact that Clavette had asked for a three-year contract when hired in Oct. 2013, said Cluff.

“She was looking for more security, so that it wouldn’t be easy for the board to remove her,” he said, acknowledging the seeming revolving door at the chamber in recent years.

Clavette’s contract allowed her compensation should the chamber board seek an early termination to the agreement. However, all that is required of her, should she initiate a break-up, was a six-week notice. She gave it in a resignation letter submitted to the chamber’s board of directors on Dec. 8.

“She’s not given us a reason,” said Cluff. “The only thing she shared with us is that she’s moving on to pursue other opportunities. What those are, we don’t know.”

Clavette’s resignation letter appears even more cryptic.

“Though it may come as a surprise, I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to make a change,” it reads, simply.

In the letter, Clavette offered to work out her required notice, “unless you feel differently,” in which case she’d use up two weeks of accrued vacation time.

Cluff said the board has no issue with Clavette staying on for as long as she’s willing. In fact, they remain eager to have her, he said. Clavette is currently readying an “exit plan,” said Cluff, which will wrap up her current projects, and allow the board to pass the baton to her successor in as seamless a manner as possible.

“I’ve also considered staying on in some sort of a consulting capacity,” said Clavette.

On Monday, Clavette declined to cite a reason for her departure, saying only, “It’s just time for a change.”

“Whether it’s the media, or anybody, there’s always somebody trying to dig in to what is, or what isn’t. And, you know, there isn’t anything,” she said. “The bottom line is, I have some other opportunities I’m looking at. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Clavette, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, leaves the Kennebunk-area chamber after what Cluff calls “an awesome year.”

During her short tenure, Clavette led an eight-month project to overhaul the chamber’s “outdated” website and worked to “stabilize membership and financing,” said Cluff. She also obtained a $10,000 grant from the Maine Office of Tourism, then leveraged that to secure another $40,000 in donations, using the money to develop a marketing plan for the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel area.

“That was all of her doing,” said Cluff. “When Denise came on board there was a lot of work to be done, and she helped us to do that. In a short period of time she turned a lot of things around and got the momentum going in the right direction.”

“I believe that together the board and I accomplished a lot more in my year than had been accomplished in a while,” said Clavette. “I’m very, very excited about having taken the chamber from where it was to where it is today, and giving a great opportunity to the next person.”

According to Cluff, it’s too soon to say what the search process for Clavette’s replacement will look like. The board hopes to at least have an interim director in place by the time she leaves. Once a permanent replacement is found, that person will be the fourth executive director at the chamber in the last four years, and the sixth since 2003.

“Denise did a great job and we’re really sad to see her go,” said Kennebunk Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, in a Dec. 11 interview. “I think the communication was good. We’ve had that over the past couple of directors, but if I were to go back beyond that, that wasn’t quite as good, to be honest with you.”

In 2007, the chamber’s 15-member board of directors agreed to an “amicable separation” with executive director Dick Leeman after four years.

Other departures during that same time frame left Promotions Director Karen Duddy as last man standing on the chamber staff. She eventually took the top job, staying on until May 2010.

Following Duddy was residential broker Jim Fitzgerald, who started as an interim director in May 2010. After leading a visioning process aimed at forging a new chamber direction, he won the full-fledged position starting in Jan. 2011. That lasted less than a year, however. Suzanne McKechnie, a former economic development specialist for the city of Sanford, succeeded Fitzgerald in Dec. 2012.

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