Eight months ago the D.C. Chamber of Commerce was plunged into scandal and its president, James L. Denson, resigned amid three investigations into whether he misappropriated thousands of dollars in chamber funds.
The chamber's directors said it was bankrupt and reduced its staff from 30 to two and moved into donated offices.
Tomorrow the chamber will make its first public attempts to resurrect itself at its first membership breakfast since the chamber scandal became public, said Carlton Jones, new chamber president and president of Jones, Wells and Associates, a real estate firm. The chamber will attempt to win back some of its members who left several months ago, Jones said.
Large projects, foreign trade missions and competition with the Greater Washington Board of Trade have been scraped, and the chamber will become closer to its historical image of aiding small and medium-sized mostly minority-owned businesses, he said.
The chamber is still reorganizing and is attempting to institute safeguards to prevent abuses, Jones said. For example, he said that in the past the chamber's board of directors was mostly honorary. "They did not ask the proper questions," Jones said.
The chamber will try to institute a checks and balance system, he said. Many of the new board's members are "young and energetic," Jones said. They will scrutinize yearly audits and and statements. "It should be run like a business," he said, but would not elaborate.
Nearly a year ago, the D.C. Chamber faced debts of about $150,000, including $90,000 in unpaid city and federal withholding taxes for its employes.
Denson was accused of misappropriating thousands of dollars of chamber funds in 1979 and 1980 and using the financial resources, image and name of the chamber to further his personal business interests.
A U.S. grand jury, the D.C. Ispector General and an internal chamber audit committee have investigated Denson's activities relating to the chamber and reports are imminent, Jones said.
The new board has identified the chamber's debts, but Jones said he wouldn't release the amounts of the debts or what they were for. The chamber is attempting to make repayment arrangements with the creditors. "They're small bills, some as little as $30," he said.
The chamber under Denson had embarked on a new image, emphasizing more white participation and large overseas projects. For example, in 1979 the chamber and 15 business people went to Egypt to seek out joint ventures and other business prospects.
But Jones said those kinds of activities will stop.
"The new chamber will pare back. Before we were running parallel with the (Greater Washington) Board of Trade and we lost sight of representing small and medium sized businesses in addition to larger companies."
The trip to Egypt, Jones said, "is not something a local chamber is expected to do" and probably won't anymore. New programs will focus on lobbying for bills to help small and medium sized businesses and working with the mayor and community on special projects, he said.
The chamber had grown in membership and financial strength and earlier this year was scheduled to receive nearly $500,000 in public funds under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for commercial revitalization and a minority tourism grant from the D.C. government. Most of these funds were cut off.
Jones said the chamber now will try to stay away from government funds. He also said the chamber's new projects will be announced tomorrow at the membership breakfast.