Former White Center Chamber President Ufkes looks back and offers clarifications

Dear Editor;

For the past three years, it has been an extraordinary honor to be President of the White Center Chamber of Commerce. The 14 members of the Chamber Board of Directors have been fantastic, and to the person, they are passionate and excited about the future of White Center. Proudly, they are also doing much of the community building needed in any community if it is to move forward.

Many of your readers see some of our many Chamber successes every day. Our five new “Welcome” signs in 50 languages, our new VisitWhiteCenter.com website, where over 200 White Center businesses are listed for free, and our dozens of colorful murals that grace walls throughout White Center that were previously graffiti sites.

Some of our less well known successes include our alcohol impact inventories, where we count public drinking and empty alcohol containers by brand and provide an annual report to the Washington State Liquor Control Board (requesting increased enforcement), and our Good Neighbor Agreements and “Responsible Alcohol Sales” stickers, where we asked selected alcohol vendors to discourage alcohol service to openly intoxicated individuals and limit high octane product sales in the morning hours. We coordinated a Homeless Summit to explore how to compassionately address this challenge in White Center, and we coordinated with several Eagle Scouts to clean and paint White Center garbage cans and clear a large business district lot across the street from Mount View school, that was filled with camps and 1,100 pounds of mostly alcohol related trash. It will now become our new White Center library, a smart move by the King County Library System Board of Trustees that the Chamber strongly supported.

The White Center Chamber re-dedicated the Veterans Triangle Park, adding lighting to the flag pole, and a new flag. Annually, we install the White Center Christmas tree and host a community lighting ceremony. We initiated our annual White Center Hero Awards each December, and expanded our community service partnerships with the White Center Community Development Association (CDA), dozens of important community groups such as Union Gospel Mission and Boy Scouts of America, dozens of local property and business owners, Evergreen High School, our King County Sheriff’s Department, King County Parks, and many, many more.

No doubt, when our Chamber works so hard to try to improve White Center, like any effort that pushes to move forward, we collect a small group of detractors. Mr. Price, the author of a letter-to-the-editor in this fine newspaper last week is one of them.

It is appropriate to address his accusations. What can be assured is that once I write this response, he or his pro-Burien annexation cronies will write another letter with an entirely new list of complaints. On thing about America, even the do nothings get a voice.

The Chamber quit hosting daily office hours to save $2,500 per year in staff costs because we only used the office for board meetings and there was almost zero public demand for an open Chamber office.

The White Center Chamber has never had an affiliation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. We, like all local Chambers of Commerce, are a separate entity. We did add a statement on our letterhead stating that we are not affiliated with the U.S Chamber of Commerce, when it became involved in conservative political causes in 2010.

The Chamber Board of Directors did change the by-laws. In 2009, the White Center Chamber had not done any meaningful activity in several years. Meetings were sparsely attended, and there was only one member from our communities of color involved. Russ Prichard, the outgoing President, declared it a “dying organization”.

Frank Cantwell, Principal of Holy Family School and I started talking about the potential of the Chamber. Frank agreed to serve as Interim President, and we recruited new Chamber Board members, including five from our communities-of-color. They were all nominated, their biographies were sent to all Chamber members, and they were duly elected by the Chamber membership.

The by-laws allowed that anyone could be a Chamber member and vote, regardless of where they lived (in the entire world) and regardless of whether they had business interests in White Center. Basically, pay the $85 and you get to vote.

On a Sunday afternoon, on the last hour of the board election, a group 18 people (all pro Burien annexation cronies) joined the Chamber, paid their dues, and did a write in campaign in an attempt to elect themselves to the Chamber board. Several did not live in White Center, and many had zero business interests here. They lost, but it alerted us to the potential for anyone to abuse the chamber board election process by buying votes at the last minute. What if they had wanted to site a jail here, for example?

We changed the by-laws so that this will not happen again, and Chamber board leadership will be more stabilized. We also added a clause that White Center residents who do not have business interests here can join but only those with business, rental, or commercial interests can vote for Chamber board members. These reasonable changes were supported by the 14-member Chamber board.

In closing, I am so thankful for the many profound friendships I have made through our Chamber. The past three years has been such a blessing. Thank you.

Mark Ufkes, outgoing White Center Chamber President
White Center Resident and Rental Property Owner

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