ESCONDIDO — An internal conflict in the Greater Escondido Chamber of Commerce has led to the firing of four staff members, including its CEO.
CEO James “JR” Rowten was fired in early October by the chamber’s board of directors, shortly followed by the layoffs of Marketing and Events Director Chris Cochran, Growth and Development Director Ruth Kingcade and Digital Media and Events Coordinator Glori Weiss.
Soon after, Kingcade posted on her LinkedIn account that she was actively looking for a new job.
According to other media reports on the situation, the Escondido Chamber is facing financial struggles after exhausting a line of credit used to pay its bills. The board then voted to lay off its employees and instead rely on volunteers to run its operations.
Chamber Board Chair Deanna Smith issued a press release on Oct. 5 that announced a “transformative reorganization of the non-profit driven by a group of dedicated volunteers.” The press release makes no mention of the fired CEO or staff members.
“After careful consideration and consultation with various stakeholders, the Greater Escondido Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors has decided to embark on a revitalization journey led by passionate volunteers who have a deep love for Escondido and a strong desire to see the local business community thrive,” the statement reads.
Key components listed as part of the move include strategic planning to guide the chamber’s future endeavors, public outreach and engagement efforts with the organization’s members, strengthening community partnerships and introducing “new and innovative” programs to better connect businesses and foster networking opportunities within the city.
“Together, let’s embrace this opportunity for renewal and growth,” Smith states in the press release. “Our dedicated team of volunteers is committed to re-energizing the chamber and ensuring it remains a dynamic and effective resource for local businesses.”
Neither Smith, the rest of the chamber’s board, nor the fired employees returned The Coast News’ requests for comment on the situation.
According to the Escondido-Times Advocate, Rowten reportedly removed all of his personal items from his office the week prior before leaving on a long-planned family trip to Italy. He also allegedly wiped his computer of all data.
According to Escondido Police Lt. Suzanne Baeder, the department has yet to receive an official criminal complaint on the matter.
“To my knowledge, no evidence has been brought to the police department, and no formal complaint has been filed with us,” Baeder told The Coast News via email.