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Chamber's executive director to step down in August
Debi Richards, who's helmed the Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce for nearly two years, announced this week that she's stepping down from the demanding post.
Richards will see the chamber through the Strawberry Festival, the organization's biggest annual event, drawing as many as 30,000 people. The board, she said, hopes to hire someone in the next couple of months who will be able to work with her as she plans and oversees the festival. She expects to step down in mid-August.
Richards said she was resigning for personal — not professional — reasons.
"This has been a fabulous job. And I've been very supported and embraced by the businesses and the community and the board," she said.
Asked to explain her decision, she answered, "I don't want to get too philosophical or personal. … It's just something I need to do in my life right now."
Richards stepped into the executive director's position at a tricky time for the chamber. Some Islanders were unhappy about plans the chamber had announced to increase tourism on the Island. At the same time, there was tension between the chamber and the Merchants Association — shop owners, many of whom were also chamber members, who developed the association to try to enhance Vashon Town's retail life.
Natalie Sheard, owner of Cafe Luna and a member of both the chamber and the Merchants Association, said Richards did much to heal the rift. Indeed, she said, she believed Richards agreed to become the executive director in large part because she knew she could play a positive role
"She really wanted to mend the gap between the merchants and the chamber. And she knew she could mend it," Sheard said.
Richards, she added, is a good communicator and a "people person." What's more, she said, she made it clear that "she was on the merchants' side."
At the same time, Sheard said, she's not surprised by Richards' decision. The post is a challenging one, she said, adding, "She's a grandma. She wants to slow down in her life. Who can blame her?"
Richards has been at the chamber for six years, working first as an assistant in the two-person office before becoming the director. Patti McClements, the chamber's board chair and the manager of Puget Sound Energy's community service office on Vashon, said in a news release that Richards has strengthened the organization in her nearly two years as its director.
"Although Debi will be missed, she's leaving us poised to do great things in the future," McClements said.