Judge urges warring chambers to stop ‘slinging mud’
South County conflict not ending soon
By Kate Rowland Contributing Writer
What’s in a name? To South County chambers of commerce in Charlestown, Narragansett, North Kingstown and the Greater Westerly/Pawcatuck, Conn. area, a name can be a pivotal tool in attracting new members worth fighting over in a court of law.
Allied as the United Chambers of Southern Rhode Island, the nonprofit service organizations took legal action against the 79-year-old South Kingstown Chamber of Commerce seeking a preliminary injunction to stop it from using a new name: Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. SRIC’s board of directors unanimously adopted their new brand last July and informed members the following September.
On Jan. 18, Rhode Island Superior Court Associate Justice Brian P. Stern denied the request for the injunction, claiming plaintiffs failed to show a reasonable likelihood of proving in court their organizations would be irreparably harmed by the name change.
But the court also warned the newly named Southern Rhode Island Chamber it might be better served to mend fences than declare victory.
“In dire economic times such as the ones we live in now, the chambers have before them a sheer Herculean task; that is to ensure the prosperity of their members. … [It] cannot be completed by slinging mud at each other,” Stern said.
The court also noted that its ruling “is not a death knell for the plaintiffs in their lawsuit moving forward,” should they gather evidence of irreparable harm to their businesses.
In a statement after the ruling, the Southern Rhode Island Chamber said it “will continue to look for opportunities to repair relationships.”
Lisa Konicki, executive director of The Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, did not immediately return a call last week seeking comment on the ruling. During a hearing on the request for an injunction, she said the Southern Rhode Island name change was likely to confuse local businesses about which chamber they were dealing with, as well as lead them to assume the defendant in the case was “the only option for chamber services in southern Rhode Island.”
The Narragansett Chamber stated in its November newsletter that the name change is an overt attempt to overcome its sister organizations in the bordering towns of Narragansett and Charlestown, as well as neighboring North Kingstown and Westerly.
“[SRIC’s] name change is … an aggressive and hostile action,” it stated in the newsletter. Prior to SRIC’s name change, then-Chairman Joseph Viele approached the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce and Charlestown Chamber of Commerce separately and suggested consolidation, according to a joint statement signed by the four litigious board presidents and released a week after the Southern Rhode Island Chamber announced its new brand.