UPDATE: Chamber board accepts president’s resignation

LEWISTON — The president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce abruptly resigned Wednesday over the fallout from a public raffle for a custom-built, semi-automatic rifle that had been announced by the chamber the day before, on Election Day.

In a news release, Matt Leonard called the timing of the raffle announcement “egregious,” “reprehensible” and “a colossal error in judgment.” The raffle for the AR-15 was quickly canceled.

“Upon decisive, explicit and strong order from the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board of directors, effective immediately, the ‘Gun Raffle’ and any promotion thereof is retracted,” he wrote in a news release. “The board has personally expressed to me without equivocation that the distasteful combination of the timing and content of the email that was sent yesterday promoting this raffle does not represent their guidance and intent.

“The egregious timing of this communication was unintended, yet still reprehensible that it was in fact released. Please know that this event was not properly vetted by the board of directors.”

Leonard told the Sun Journal on Wednesday that chamber staff had come up with the raffle as a way to raise money for the chamber and to promote chamber member Top Gun of Maine in Poland. Staff members spent a month working on the concept and ensuring its legality with the state.

The board of directors knew of the potential raffle, Leonard said, but the board had not yet fully vetted the idea when the email was sent out Tuesday announcing the raffle of a custom-built AR-15.

Leonard said the email, which featured a photo of the semi-automatic rifle directly beneath the chamber logo, also wasn’t “ready for prime time” and he had not reviewed it before it was sent out.

“Certainly, there was no intent to release that on Election Day or election week,” Leonard said. “Part of my roles and responsibility here is to have an understanding of the political environment, have a pulse. I certainly am cognizant of the fact that that was the absolute worst time to send that. It wasn’t intentional. Unfortunately, it went out, and it really struck a nerve with many of our members and members of the community.”

While some people liked the raffle idea and bought tickets, many were upset with the idea that the chamber would give away a semi-automatic weapon — and announce that giveaway during a particularly divisive Election Day that included a controversial gun referendum.

Leonard said about 10 of the chamber’s 1,162 members had pulled their chamber memberships as of Wednesday morning. More were expected.

“This chamber has a long history and a great reputation, and I think for some of them, they felt that (raffle) was incongruent with what this chamber has stood for,” he said.

Leonard said he also heard from the board, which “vehemently rejected” the raffle and made it clear that “the manner and style in which this offering was made was not in the interest of our membership at large or community.”

Leonard submitted his resignation Wednesday.

“I recognize my failure to execute appropriate oversight and leadership,” he said.

It is unclear whether the board will accept the resignation. It may refuse to allow Leonard to resign and instead fire him for cause. 

The board talked about the issue through Wednesday afternoon, but board Chairwoman-elect Robin Robbins said no decision was likely that day.

“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” she said.

While other chambers throughout the country have held successful gun raffles, they are not common in Maine.

Chip Morrison, who led the Androscoggin chamber for about two decades before retiring last year, said the chamber did auction off a handgun about five years ago during an annual fundraiser. The chamber did not receive any complaints during that event, but Morrison noted that the fundraiser had a very limited audience and the gun wasn’t a semi-automatic.

Morrison, a chamber member, saw the notice for the AR-15 raffle and said he “knew there would be push-back just by the picture I saw.”

But Morrison also said he likes Leonard, who replaced him after his retirement.

“I feel really badly,” Morrison said.

Leonard has led the chamber since May 2015 after a 20-plus-year career in the U.S. Navy.

 

The full text of Matt Leonard’s press release on the semi-automatic rifle raffle and his resignation:

“Upon decisive, explicit and strong order from the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce board of directors, effective immediately, the “Gun Raffle” and any promotion thereof is retracted. The board has personally expressed to me without equivocation that the distasteful combination of the timing and content of the email that was sent yesterday promoting this raffle does not represent their guidance and intent.

“The egregious timing of this communication was unintended yet, still reprehensible that it was in fact released. Please know that this event was not properly vetted by the board of directors.

“The manner and style in which this offering was made was not in the interest of our membership at large or community and is vehemently rejected by the board.

“I made a colossal error in judgment with a corresponding failure in leadership. For that I am eternally and sincerely sorry and offer my most heartfelt apology to the members of the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce and community.

“The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has built a strong reputation of serving our community and has been a pillar in our community for decades. While this one incident does not reflect well on that reputation and history — that stain is my fault. I hope that you see that the board and our membership have taken stern and immediate actions demonstrating their continued commitment to serving our members and community in a manner that reflects best on us all.

“My error in judgment, failure in leadership, and violation of trust bestowed by the board is inexcusable.

“Although still pending stronger actions from the board of directors, I have submitted my immediate resignation to the board and will do everything in my power to execute their wishes in the days ahead.

“I continue to believe that the greater Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan area is on the cusp of greatness and hope that you will support the board as they move forward.

“I offer my sincerest and most heartfelt apology to the community, the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce members, and board of directors.”

Matt Leonard


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