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Murrells Inlet 2020: Focus shifts from promotion to community preservation

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Murrells Inlet 2020 will hire a new executive director in the coming months, but to cut costs, the group might eliminate its office space and shed some of the events it organizes, including the inlet’s Christmas parade.

Those changes were discussed extensively by the group’s board this week during an all-day workshop, along with plans to streamline and refocus on its mission.

“Throughout the years we’ve become the unofficial Chamber of Commerce, but that’s not really our mission,” said Jennifer Averette, the group’s current executive director.

The group was established in 1997 to revitalize the community and preserve the inlet for future generations, but with much of the revitalization work done, it wants to focus in on environmental education, litter clean-up and water quality monitoring, Averette said.

Debate about the director’s position monopolized the workshop. They decided to start seeking resumés immediately.

The board began re-evaluating Murrells Inlet 2020’s activities and whether a full-time director is necessary after Averette announced plans in November to resign. She has been the group’s executive director for the last two years, but her husband recently took a job in the Charlotte area and Averette plans to join him there later this year.

She will leave Murrells Inlet 2020 on Feb. 11.

The group considered scaling the position back because of finances. It had a $15,000 shortfall in its $125,000 annual budget last year.

While Murrells Inlet 2020’s fundraisers have remained successful, donations are down, said chairman Whitney Hills.

The biggest expenses for the group are by far the executive director’s salary and office space.

While the scope of the executive director’s job won’t change, the salary for the position will. Averette makes $38,000 a year, but the salary range the board decided to offer a new executive director is $30,000 to $35,000 a year. They discussed a lower pay scale that would have started at $28,000, but some board members were concerned going too low might lead to fewer and less qualified applicants, and frequent employee turnover.

“You’re going to get what you pay for,” said board member Charlie Campbell. “It’s a very difficult job that requires three or four different skill sets.”

Beth Stedman, a member of the group’s advisory board, said she also thought the pay needed to be higher.

“My concern is a matter of creating stability in the organization,” she said. “You don’t want to have this revolving door, where as soon as somebody learns the job, they’re on their way out,” looking for something that offers a better salary.

But that’s exactly what people are supposed to do, board member John Benso said.

“We live in a society where that behavior is encouraged.”

The group opted to offer a lower salary range and see what kind of response is received. If the group eliminates its office space, the opportunity to work from home could make up for lower pay in the eyes of some applicants, and the unemployment rate is likely to make the salary more appealing, Hills said.

“In this economy, $40,000 a year jobs are not on every corner,” she said.

Resumés should be submitted by Jan. 26, Averette said, but Hills said the search could stretch beyond that, depending on the applicant pool.

Among the requirements for the job are creativity and organizational, and computer and social media skills. The group also wants someone who is self-directed, can multi-task, and preferably has worked with a nonprofit and has grant writing and environmental education experience.

Finding the right person for the job might take some time, Hills said.

While it searches for a new executive director, the board will continue considering what to do about its office space and whether to cut some of its events, including the inlet’s Christmas parade, Fourth of July fireworks and the 5K race.

The fireworks accounted for a large chunk of the group’s shortfall last year, Averette said.

“I’ve gone back and forth about this, but I think the ideal would be to get rid of some of the events that aren’t producing,” she told the group.

She believes the events are important to the community, but if the group is going to take another look at its mission, it should consider whether certain events are in keeping with that mission, she said.

Even if Murrells Inlet 2020 drops the events, she doesn’t expect they would go away. Other groups would likely pick them up.

“These events might be a blessing to some other group,” she said.

By eliminating office space, Murrells Inlet 2020 could save more than $10,000 a year on rent, according to its 2010 budget.

“Why do we need an office?” asked Tom Swatzel, the board’s vice chairman. “The phone can be answered from anywhere.”

And tickets to events could be sold from any number of inlet businesses.

“We can have a virtual office,” Campbell said. “All you need is a cell phone and a laptop.”

But others, including Hills, favor keeping office space, though they were open to looking for a less expensive space. Asking the county for space once a new Murrells Inlet community center opens was also discussed. That’s supposed to happen next year.

The board is expected to continue the discussion at its next meeting, at 3 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Murrells Inlet Community Center.

The meetings are open to the public and community members who have concerns or opinions about proposed changes are encouraged to attend, Hills said.

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