Is the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce becoming community unfriendly? Several community nonprofits seem to think so.

From publicly admonishing a nonprofit leader and fellow chamber member for participating in non-chamber-related activities to denying a years’ long partnership because, “We’re not getting anything out of it” and most recently wanting to make money from community nonprofits at the recent Health and Wellness Festival, many community members are beginning to feel that the chamber needs to be reminded of what type of community Mesquite is.

Yoli Bell, president and founder of the Mesquite Cancer Help Society has participated in what used to be the Veteran’s Health Fair, which is now the Community Health and Wellness Festival, for 20 years. Booths/tables at the event have always been “no charge” to those who freely gave their time and information to support veterans and their families.

This year, for the first time, the chamber was asked to help with the health festival. They agreed to work with profit and non-profit vendors. The chamber tried to charge nonprofits and veterans for tables at the event. That was not the original intent of the other organizations who participated.

After others interceded on behalf of Bell and the veterans, they were not charged for tables. But other vendors and nonprofits still paid $100 per member or $150 per nonmember, per table at the festival. They were charged $15 extra if they required electricity.

Along with the income for the tables and sponsorships, the chamber seemingly made money off the community during this historically free event and yet appeared to give back very little; although not if you hear it from Chamber CEO Carol Kolsen.

Bell and others are stunned by the chamber’s new attitude and said, “Does our CofC have any idea how we as a community support each other through the unity that is felt at an event like the annual health fair?

“Many nonprofits are vital to the health and welfare of those who live in and around our city through the information available to them by way of the health fair. It has always been free and mainly provides the avenues and opens the channels of communication for many who are unaware of the vital resources available to them.

“To charge nonprofits to participate in a community event like this one, is truly the most self-serving act! We are trying to help make life easier for many who need our resources; it’s about giving, not simply taking.”

When Kolsen was first contacted at the health fair on Oct. 26, she was told that the Mesquite Local News wanted to ask her some questions about the health fair. She responded, “I’ll be right there.” As she approached me and a few veterans, she was cut short by another chamber member who whispered something to her before the two looked at me, turned about face and walked away.

The chamber member was aware of the question that I wanted to ask Kolson.

I asked her, “What is the chamber going to do for the community with the money you’ve raised off this festival?” and “What justifies charging the veterans and other nonprofits for participating?”

Kolsen denied trying to charge veterans. But veteran Bob Barquist said, “It was discussed at the beginning about the veterans having to pay but that conversation lasted about five seconds; we protested.”

When the American Legion was told they would have to pay to enter the event, they weren’t going to participate at all; others interceded and straightened it out.

Kolsen claims that the chamber didn’t make money off the event because they had expenses and probably lost money.

When I asked her about some of the expenses, she said, “We paid for the band.” I instantly challenged her about that because 30 minutes prior I had spoken with the business owner who paid for the entire band cost.

Kolsen asked, “Did you enjoy a lunch today? If you did, it would have been on us.” That was mostly false because Mesa View Hospital provided all the food and Mesquite Fire and Rescue cooked it. The chamber only provided 300 cookies and paper plates.

Kolsen claimed an expense for half the tables and chairs for the event. Mesa View was billed for half the chair rentals from Ace Hardware and Moreno’s Party Rentals donated the other half of the tables and chairs and half a tent; the other half of the tent was billed to a private party not the chamber.

She claimed marketing expenses as well as the payment for a balloon artist and face painter that were both technically paid for by sponsorships. Reliance Connects and Pediatric Dental sponsored the “Kids Corner” that paid for both. Clark County Library and CCSD, made up of volunteers, entertained the kids for free.

Marketing done by the chamber was mostly through social media and at no out-of-pocket cost to them. Mesa View Hospital paid for all the printed media marketing. It is unclear who paid for the vinyl banners but they were not donated.

Kolsen claimed staff salaries as an expense but planning meetings for the event were held during regular business hours. The chamber has a paid staff member whose title is “Events Coordinator” as well as a paid administrative assistant who would have worked on most of the event as part of their job.

Kolsen stated she had four staff members who “had to be paid in the planning of this event. There were a lot of hours involved in planning.”

I requested a copy of the chamber’s expense report, including line items, for the Community Health and Wellness Festival but the chamber has not provided any information.

It’s not just this incident that has people shaking their heads about the Chamber’s community spirit. Unlike past tradition, the chamber did not participate in last year’s Christmas Parade of Lights, this year’s Veterans Day parade, Trunk or Treat or Eureka’s Shreekreeka.

The chamber seems reluctant to do anything for the community unless there’s something in it for them; that’s certainly not keeping in with the spirit of the community.

Mesa View Hospital, the city, sponsors, veterans, businesses and organizations gave their all to benefit the community.  The Chamber of Commerce “gave” nothing but instead took from the community.

Shame on them.

Teri Nehrenz is a reporter for Mesquite Local News