African American Chamber Leadership in Question for now

By Wesley Martin

Last Friday, March 16, City Councilman John Jerralds held an “interest” meeting to discuss the efficacy of the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce at city hall.

“We’re trying to find out of business people in the community were interested in having an active and effective Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce,” Jerralds said.

According to members of the chamber, the organization hasn’t held a formal meeting since November 2011. Additionally, chamber members have expressed concern over no longer having an operational facility. (Note: The chamber currently does not have a running website.)

Chairman of the chamber, George Hawthorne, says the chamber is productive. Hawthorne claims the chamber helped secure over $4 million of contracts for minority business with the Maritimes Park project.

Hawthorne, who became chairman of the chamber in September 2010, said the chamber is a private, non-profit organization duly authorized and organized in the state of Florida.

“Our last year of public funding from the county was in the fiscal year of 2010; currently, we have no affiliation with the city or the county,” Hawthorne said. “In the fiscal year of 2012, we never requested any money from the city of the county.

The city put into their budget to give us $10,000. I, nor the board, have not voted to accept that money.”

The chairman also stated that the chamber hasn’t executed an agreement with the city to be able to receive the money. Because of this, Hawthorne says the city has no sanction in regards to the chamber.

Others aren’t buying it.

“All actions have ceased,” said chamber board member, Derek Stromas. “The fundamental issue is that no one – the community, the chamber or the board – was satisfied with the leadership of Mr. Hawthorne.”

Stromas said in the past the chamber was successful, but due to poor leadership and internal challenges, the organization has since disbanded.

Greg Green, owner of G. B. Green Construction, believes the chamber needs more responsible leadership as well as reorganization.

“We need to be more accountable for our actions,” Green said. “As a whole we’re a strong community but we need to stop fighting and build the chamber.”

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