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Arnhym Says His Departure Voluntary : Chamber President Resigns Under Pressure

October 16, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Rolfe G. Arnhym, president of the Chamber of Commerce for 17 months, resigned under pressure this week, saying his job was no longer fun and acknowledging "differences of opinion" with some chamber directors.

Arnhym insisted that his resignation, effective Dec. 31, was voluntary. But both he and his bosses said he did not seem suited for his primary task of eliminating the $269,000 chamber debt he discovered after being hired in May, 1985.

Chamber chairwoman Elaine Hutchinson confirmed that there was board pressure for Arnhym's resignation, but said she does not know whether there would have been enough votes to fire him. In the end, it was his decision to quit, she said.

Emphasis Was on Debt

"The emphasis was so much on the debt that he didn't have the opportunity to do some of the things he wanted. And (financial management) probably was not the area where he feels his strengths are . . . The job did not evolve for him as it might have for somebody else," she said.

Arnhym, 56, said he has the financial skills needed for the job, and in one year reduced the chamber debt by more than half. But Arnhym, an Army colonel until 1974, said he is not happy working almost exclusively as a "number cruncher."

"I am not comfortable with the role of bookkeeper," he said. "And the bulk of the information on the top of my desk is information that would usually be on the desk of an accountant. I can quote figures, but that's not why I came over here."

He said, in fact, that he would never have taken the Long Beach job, which pays $90,000 a year in salary and benefits, if he had known the chamber had such a debt.

Hired From Pasadena

The chamber hired Arnhym away from the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, where he had spent 6 1/2 years and helped bring the 1983 Army-Navy game to the Rose Bowl. The Army-Navy '83 Foundation, which was set up to oversee the event, was left with a debt of more than $2.1 million from the financially unsuccessful game. Arnhym said the bulk of that has since been paid.

In September, 1985, three months after Arnhym's arrival in Long Beach, chamber officials announced that they had discovered a surprising $150,000 debt in their operating budget. The chamber's budget that fiscal year was $849,000. This year it is $885,000. Arnhym said Tuesday that the total debt turned out to be $269,000.

"Any business in a similar position would have gone bankrupt or taken out a sizable loan. We did neither," he said. "Instead, we have tried to pay back everyone we can. But that debt is like a cloud floating around over us out there. And it will be there until the debt is reduced to zero."

His challenge, he said, has been to keep the chamber's 2,500 full members and 1,000 associate members, to maintain services for members, to keep revenues up, while paying back the debt.

Vendor Debt Reduced

In the nine months since the chamber began repaying those debts, it has reduced the $201,000 owed vendors in its formal pay-back plan to about $100,000, he said. And it has cut by more than half an additional $68,000 that has been listed on chamber books as currently due, he said.

All debts will be paid by January, 1989, if the pay-back schedule is kept, he said. The board of directors made finances even tighter this fiscal year by requiring that $100,000 be set aside in a contingency fund in case of emergencies, he said.

The move might have been prudent, but the strain of stretching the budget has been felt by him and others, he said. "The pressure to keep us financially solvent, to pay back monies we owe, and to deal every day with unhappy people to whom we owe money--it just takes something out of you. It's not fun," he said.

Income Utilized Immediately

Arnhym's financial decisions also have been questioned by chamber directors, he acknowledged. "This chamber utilizes its money literally as it comes in the door . . . This turnaround management is a brutal art . . . It was a case sometimes of the messenger who brings bad news," he said.

Specifically, directors have questioned Arnhym about why he has paid some vendors more promptly than others, he said.

The last two issues of the chamber's monthly magazine were late, and directors wanted to know why money was not shifted from other accounts until advertising revenues arrived, he said. "This chamber has never paid attention to its cash position," he said. As early as 1939 the chamber had to borrow $25,000 to pay off debts, he said, and he produced a 47-year-old document to prove his point.

Arnhym's financial statements--monthly reports and biweekly reports and daily cash-flow accounts--have been criticized, he said. "You're never able to put together as many reports in the kind of detail that everybody would like," he said.

Board Members Won't Talk

Several past and present members of the chamber board have declined comment about Arnhym during the last two weeks, referring questions to Hutchinson. She declined Tuesday to respond to Arnhym's comments about his problems with the board.

"I'm not going to get involved in this discussion. I've enjoyed working with Mr. Arnhym and let's leave it at that," she said.

In a chamber press release, Hutchinson said the board of directors regretted Arnhym's resignation, and she credited him with doing much to improve chamber operations.

Arnhym said that in the 2 1/2 months before he leaves he expects to firm up one of several "very exciting" management possibilities in private industry.

Hutchinson said a chamber committee will look at the president's job to see if the description needs to be changed, then begin an extensive search for a replacement.

"I think for some time in the future the emphasis will still be on the financial side," she said.

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