1st Time since Chief’s Departure, Santa Barbara Chamber Officials to Hold Office Hours at Impact Hub

In the wake of the abrupt Dec. 31 resignation of its leader, the Chamber of Commerce the Santa Barbara Region will send its two vice presidents to a 1:30 p.m. Jan. 9 office hours meeting at Impact Hub, 1117 State St. 

Stephanie Armstrong and Sarah Warman are scheduled to represent the embattled chamber following the departure of Ken Oplinger, who left without clearly indicating where he was off to next after joining the region’s largest business group in 2013. 

The last full-time Santa Barbara Region Chamber chief, Steve Cushman, left in 2012 after 24 years at the helm and a drop of several hundred dues-paying members during the recession that started in 2008. 

Zoe Taylor served as interim chamber chief until Oplinger was hired amid a swell of returning members who brought total dues payers to some 800. However, the December 2017 Thomas fire and January 2018 Montecito mudslide drove many business owners away or made them reconsider paying chamber dues again during hard times.

In January 2018, Oplinger had a stent installed in the wake of a heart attack, but resumed his chamber duties soon afterward. That same month Downtown Organization chief Maggie Campbell quit after being embroiled in controversies related to what businesses to allow in long-empty store fronts on State Street. 

Oplinger obviously had his mind on at least one other job last year when his contract expired and he ran an unsuccessful bid for a city council seat in Oxnard where he resides with his family. 

However, the controversy that most came back to haunt Oplinger during the past few years was his insistence on endorsing candidates for political offices. Chamber board directors and members disliked that idea. 

According to the chamber’s website, only three current staff members are listed: Warman, Visitors Center chief Annemarie Rogers and Executive Vice President Armstrong, who is rumored to possibly be in the running for a vacant city council seat appointment. 

Meanwhile, no announcement has been made about who will be hired as the State Street “czar,” or business consultant, which the city council unanimously voted to bring on board last August. 

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