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Our View: Optics aren’t ideal for Mayo and DMC leading Chamber

September 16, 2017

Does Mayo Clinic run Rochester?

Many people believe it does, and that’s been true for the better part of a century. Rochester has been a company town since Drs. Will and Charlie were in charge, and residents of company towns want to be assured that the company isn’t calling all the shots.

Mayo generally goes the extra mile to avoid that perception. The clinic can be counted on to partner with community groups on just about any important project, from helping with the Chateau Theatre acquisition to lending expertise and manpower to less visible projects. But it prefers not to be out front and perceived as throwing its weight or money around.

Sometimes it gets involved, intentionally or not, in highly charged issues, such as the proposed DM&E railroad expansion about 15 years ago. That led to some pushback and hard feelings.

We believe the clinic tries to avoid that. Which brings us to Mayo, Destination Medical Center and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

The turmoil at the Chamber, which led to the resignation last month of President Rob Miller, has put the focus squarely on Lisa Clarke, the board chairwoman, who also happens to be the most visible person on Earth working to make DMC go.

Clarke, as executive director of the DMC Economic Develoment Agency and prior to that as Mayo’s top officer for DMC, has been out front on just about everything involving DMC since the concept was announced in January 2013. Clarke is to DMC as Colonel Sanders is to KFC.

Few raised questions, including us, when Clarke moved up to the top job on the Chamber board in October 2016. When things appear to be going smoothly, it’s easy to overlook potential hazards. As it turns out, things weren’t going so smoothly in the Chamber’s back offices. Miller quit Aug. 30 amid a firestorm involving longtime membership director Judy Braatz and allegations of mismanagement and harassment.

Suddenly, Clarke’s Chamber role has become much more complicated. Questions have been raised about whether the board responded effectively before and after Miller’s resignation. An investigation is underway that will keep the matter alive for weeks, if not longer.

This is a mess that the director of the DMC EDA does not need on her plate. Certainly DMC leaders must wish it wasn’t on her plate. What’s the upside of her involvement with the local Chamber when her role at DMC has a much larger, national field of view? At best it’s a distraction -- and as of February, Chamber board presidents serve two-year terms, not just one.

To top it off, Clarke and the board announced this week that they’ve hired a top-tier Mayo executive, Kathleen Harrington, as interim president. Her temporary hire has won praise far and wide, which is welcome news for the Chamber, but the fact remains that Mayo and DMC officials now can be reasonably perceived as leading the organization.

That’s not a healthy arrangement for Mayo, DMC or the Chamber.