Greater Columbia Chamber CEO retires; board urges support of strong-mayor referendum

Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Ike Mcleese announced his retirement Wednesday after 19 years at the helm of the business organization. McLeese suffered a heart attack in September and had been away from the Chamber since.

McCleese plans to remain a consultant for military affairs within the Chamber. The board of directors now must find someone to replace him.

In the meantime, the Chamber will continue to support the strong-mayor referendum scheduled to go to a vote Dec. 3. Spokesperson Nicole Curtis explained that the executive committee within the Chamber advocated for the strong mayor and will continue to maintain that position.

Board executives have been working to encourage members to support the strong-mayor referendum. At a chamber committee meeting Tuesday, members were given the rundown on the Chamber’s goal of getting the referendum passed.

Chairman Holt Chetwood, Midland market president for Wachovia-Wells Fargo, discussed the advantages to Columbia’s business community with a strong mayor in place. Running on a platform of accountability, Chetwood explained that a strong mayor would be able to bring jobs and companies to the area.

“Right now it’s a figurehead position,” he said.

The challenge for Chamber executives is getting their members to see beyond the structure of the strong-mayor form of government and focus on the leadership components it brings. One member expressed concern that the strong-mayor form is the opposite of council-manager, which reflects a traditional corporate model of governance.

Chetwood argued that an elected official like a mayor is more accountable than a paid administer such as the city manager position.

The Chamber is taking the next steps to secure a win for the strong-mayor referendum. Chamber executives will campaign over the next two months to try to persuade voters of the advantages of having a strong mayor.

“We’ve got growing support, now we need to get people out to vote yes,” Chetwood said.

In the case of a replacement chief executive, the Chamber has yet to begin its search. When it does, Curtis said that the organization will seek the input of community stakeholders.

Categories: Business