Who runs this town: A Secret Segregated Society?
AFTER THE CHAMBER REJECTED THE BEAGLE'S APPLICATION TO JOIN -
WE STARTED TO FIGURE IT OUT
First, I apologize to the many business owners and individuals who shared their frustrations with the "Chamber Clique" over the last 2 1/2 years.
Second, I am doing this now because the recent Town Hall meeting to create a community council stinks of the same self-serving antics that seem to exclude certain people and businesses while embracing a few. (More about that in my next column.)
I really thought and hoped, like previous papers I owned or operated, that we would report fluffy and popular stuff, prove the paper's devotion to the community by donations of time and money and slowly become part of the economic and social fabric and bring together business factions.
Here is a brief list of issues The Beagle directly has with the Chamber.
* During the last two years, we turned down advertising from out-of-town businesses to prove to Bigfork businesses we were dedicated to supporting them first. Today, six of our 13 paid ads are from Bigfork.
* We founded a community fair to support the new VFW and gave the chamber free booths to both fairs. No one from the chamber showed up or even said they weren't coming.
* When the rodeo was planned, we were never informed of anything even at a time when some community support would have helped secure the event. The Beagle volunteered unlimited free marketing, posters, guidebooks, on-the-ground help and free cookies for kids. All I wanted was a small Beagle logo on rodeo materials and a press pass. No one even returned a call or email or Facebook message. (These kinds of events swoop into town, grab thousands of dollars and swoop on to the next town. The chamber promotes them and takes a cut. The rest of us can pay for a ticket or go pound sand.)
* The chamber planned the new Monday Village Market for downtown. Never once sent me a press release or invitation to become a sponsor or anything else. Then, a few days before the first event, I was asked to promote the event for free in The Beagle. Folks, they were getting $300 a booth and sold out. Not to mention various other revenues. The Beagle was shut out, financially and socially.
* For three summers I pitched tourism marketing to the chamber. We would do all the work and even PAY THE CHAMBER for its endorsement. We would sell the ads, collect the money, design and print a high-quality magazine, then use our established distribution to get it into Missoula, Lake and Flathead counties and Southern California and Washington State. Physically and digitally. Not to mention 9,800 email subscribers across the country. Suddenly, a new group joined the chamber and pitched a similar project except the fees were double ours and the distribution was 20% of ours. No bidding process. No meetings.
* As for the Only In Bigfork magazine, I spoke with four business owners who have ads in the magazine who said they did not buy or pay for an ad. They were free. The ones who did pay were pretty upset that it came out in August, after most of the summer rush was over and two months after our Day Tripper Guide was delivered.
* On three separate occasions, business owners were told by a chamber board member not to distribute or buy ads in The Beagle or our upscale Montana Health, Wellness & Seniors Magazine. In fact, one business took about 25 of our expensive magazines and threw them in the trash. (That doesn't just hurt us, it hurts the businesses who already paid premium prices to be in the magazine.)
* Speaking of the Day Tripper Guide, we printed and distributed almost 10,000 copies to communities surrounding Flathead Lake. We had paying customers from Whitefish, Kalispell, Missoula, Big Arm, Lakeside/Somers, Hot Springs, Deer Lodge and Phillipsberg. None from Bigfork. So, while they were overpaying for far less circulation and a late delivery, Bigfork's competing neighbors got a cheap, quick and effective campaign to start their summer. Better, most of the Day Trippers were scooped up by tourists in BIGFORK so they could drive out of town to spend their money.
* A friend and chamber member advised us to just join the chamber, go to the mixers and "play the game." But when we tried to join, our application was rejected in a matter of seconds. The check was good, the paperwork was good, our business license and tax ID were good. We are not even sure the chamber can reject an application. We reported that to the Attorney General's office.
* Regarding the Town Hall meeting Saturday, I am the editor of the only Bigfork-specific media in the world. I didn't find out until my new photographer told me she read it in the Flathead Beacon. If the Chamber Clique wanted everyone to come, why didn't they let me know so I could put it in our calendar of events and maybe even cover the meeting? They must have planned this for months yet six business owners and a government agency said they were unaware of the meeting, let alone the issue. BTW -- The Flathead Beacon is the only media that ran a story about the town hall meeting. The Beacon, which is owned by Maury Povich, has an employee on the Bigfork Chamber Board.
* It is ironic but expected that after three years of trying but never speaking to some of these Bigfork pillars of the community, on Friday and Saturday several of them suddenly wanted to talk to me. Where were they when I needed support for Letters to Santa, or the VFW Community Fair? Or some tourism advertising? Crickets.
Secret Segregated Societies
Another strange pattern has been the difficulty in figuring who is on these chamber-related organizations. Please read the synopsis below of these cryptic societies.
* Here is a link to the webpage for the Bigfork Economic Development Group founded this spring. Ever heard of it? Again, no board members, not even the name of one human being. The times and place of the meetings are posted but nothing else. I attended one meeting and saw the same old familiar faces and my time was cut short at the end of the meeting. I haven't been back.
Here is the webpage for the Bigfork Promotion Group. At least this has the name of a human being, John Lang, but no title. A couple of phone numbers and an email. The link to the website is broken. Again, no board of directors, members, or times and places of meetings. It's like another Chamber Secret Society. I have emailed John 17 times since August of 2016. I spoke with him once on the phone when we were contemplating starting the Beagle, and at least he was honest. He said then it wouldn't work. https://bigfork.org/member/bigfork-promotion-group/
Here is a link to the Bigfork Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork Can someone click on the link and tell me who is on the board? I can see how to join, donate and see past accomplishments. But I do not see a name of a human being, when and where (or even if) any meetings are held. Just two ways to give them money and an email form you can fill out. Please help me. https://bigfork.org/doing-business/community-foundation-for-a-better-bigfork
A few things to close with.
1. A few members of the Chamber Clique will complain about this column and the stories and columns that follow.
* They will not address the issues I brought up.
* Some will make personal attacks on me.
* Instead of asking and/or answering my questions and concerns (am I not a local business owner? Have I not volunteered my time? Have I not donated cash?) they will talk about all the wonderful things they do or ask me to prove up something or other.
* Some would like to pull advertising but since none of them advertise with The Beagle, I don't have much to lose.
* The most cowardly and underhanded is that some will go to my current advertisers and threaten them to stop advertising. I believe this has already happened in at least two cases.
I know all the above will happen because I've been through it countless times since 1981 and because of the Facebook posts we already received. Not one member of the Chamber Clique ever stopped to ponder any of my charges or even challenge them!
Here are their problems: We don't come close to making a living on The Beagle. We have many revenues streams in untouchable places. We really started The Beagle because we were asked by a few local businesses and I have done it since 1981 and thought it would be fun to provide a rare service in a new community where we hope to live in or near and enjoy our twilight years. Our promise is that, regardless of any financial threats or bullying, we will produce a Bigfork Beagle as long as we can to make sure we can give a voice to the voiceless.
Moving forward, I will continue to interview and verify complaints from other businesses and individuals and share their stories with you. I already have some and they are almost unbelievable yet the proof is there. I will also report these exclusive antics to every regulatory agency and elected official I can.
BITCHING ABOUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH!
THE BEAGLE NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER
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