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Tom Scribner: Again, why not combine Downtown Foundation, Chamber?

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I read with interest on Sunday in the Union-Bulletin the front-page article, “Downtown Foundation switches to donations.”

According to Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Kathryn Witherington, the reason to change the Foundation’s funding model was based, in part, on “dwindling pools of money and other funding sources due to the pandemic...”

I apologize for coming across as a person who says “I told you so,” but I told you so.

In the April 26 Union-Bulletin I wrote an op-ed column, “Let’s Rethink Marketing Our Walla Walla Valley,” in which I proposed combining the Foundation and the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce.

My reasons for doing so included consideration of reduced revenue to fund two stand-alone organizations when one combined organization could serve both purposes — and for far less expense.

As stated in my column, “I suspect...that when the pandemic is behind us...there will be need to cut or reduce expenses.”

As further stated, “Membership dues may continue to be cut. Which means that operating funds for the Chamber [and] the...Foundation...may be reduced.”

As reported in the Sunday article, reduced funds for the Foundation is also due to lodging tax revenue being down. With a result that the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee reduced its 2021 grant to the Foundation from about $55,000 to $38,000. Other sources of funds to the Foundation are similarly down.

So I ask again: Why not combine the Foundation and the Chamber into one organization with one executive director, one staff and one office to rent?

That is not a critique of either organization. It is simply recognition that one organization could do what both now do. Don’t believe me? Historically, before there was a stand-alone Foundation, the Chamber did it all.

To my knowledge, the Chamber Board of Directions is in favor of this proposal (or at least willing to explore and discuss it). The Foundation Board, to my knowledge, is opposed. Why?

And, please Foundation officials, don’t tell me/us about the events they organize and support. They are excellent, they bring people to town, they help local businesses. Nobody questions that. That is not the point. The point is: Why could not a combined Chamber and Foundation do the same thing ... and for far less money?

The Wine Alliance and Visit Walla Walla are now operating with a shared executive director. So it can be done.

As long as area businesses are being asked to pay dues or make contributions, and other funding sources are being asked to donate money, I think the boards and executive directors of the two organizations owe it to all from whom they want and need to receive operating funds, to explore ways to do what they do but for less cost.

Combining into one organization would be a great way to accomplish that goal.

Walla Walla City Council member Tom Scribner is currently serving as mayor.

Walla Walla City Council member Tom Scribner is currently serving as mayor.