As of late, the relationship between the City of Olivette and the Creve Coeur-Olivette Chamber of Commerce was like a marriage going badly. Finally, Olivette council members have filed for a divorce. They got tired of kicking this particular can down the road.
At the monthly city manager’s workshop, the council once more reviewed its membership with the chamber. Dues, which used to be assessed at $1,000 annually for the city were reduced to $560. Money was not the main issue.
This matter has festered off an on for at least seven years. When retired executive director of the chamber Vi Smith was at the controls, relationships at best were strained.
Nancy Gray came in upon Smith’s retirement to try and patch relationships back together. Gray forwarded Patch's earlier story about the split to Creve Coeur-Olivette chamber board members.
When reached on Wednesday, several chamber board members and officers deferred to Gray when contacted. Gray was also trying to get in touch with Olivette City Manager Mike McDowell. McDowell, a former City Administrator in Creve Coeur, leaves at the end of next month for a similar post in Wentzville.
Leading the opposition
Former Olivette mayor and council member Jean Antoine led an uphill charge to end the relationship. The matter came before the city council because dues were due Feb. 1.
Normally, the council does not vote on issues during the managers’ workshop.
“I just don’t see what value we are getting for our money,” said Antoine. Missy Waldman, former mayor, who also sits on the council, took the opposite position.
“We don’t have anything special going on for our businesses. We could be cutting off our noses to spite our faces,” said Waldman.
Several years ago, Olivette’s Planning & Zoning Administrator Carlos Trejos tried to organize round-table discussion groups for businesses in Olivette to come together and discuss shared issues. Those round-tables really never got off the ground.
Olivette feels like a step-child in this matter. The chamber board is dominated by officials from Creve Coeur businesses and far too often, events are never planned in Olivette.
It was pointed out that ribbon cuttings for new businesses in Olivette were a rarity.
The mayor weighs in
Mayor Arthur Merdinian, who is stepping down from the council in April, agreed with the majority of members.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in the leadership of the chamber, and I’m really not content with our relationship with them at this time,” said Merdinian.
The council voted 3-2 to drop membership in the Creve Coeur-Olivette Chamber. Leif Hauser and Waldman voted to stay; members Antoine, Pablo Flinn and the mayor voted to leave.
The next day, Waldman had some additional thoughts.
"Truthfully, I hope we dialogue with them sometime soon," she said. "This is not a new issue. There were some signs of improvements with the relationship. The chamber sponsored the annual 'Chili Cookoff' at Olivette’s outdoor festival Olivette on the Go for two years.
“Sometimes, you just have to take baby steps in order to get things done,” said Waldman.