All In A Name

Chamber of Commerce files petition against Chamber Foundation

While the Molokai Chamber of Commerce (COC) may sound similar to the Molokai Chamber Foundation (MCF), they serve different functions in the community. Recently, the name similarities have caused some residents confusion, according to the COC. That’s why the COC has formally asked the MCF to change their name.

COC President Rob Stephenson filed a petition last month with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, alleging MCF infringes on its corporate name. The hearing is set for Nov. 17, 2011.

“I often get random questions from people confusing the Chamber with the Foundation and its leadership,” Stephenson said via email. “If Molokai people repeatedly get the two confused, imagine how difficult it may be for other businesses, organizations or our neighbors on the other islands.”

However, Barbara Haliniak, president of MCF, said this petition jeopardizes the grants upon which her organization depends. Haliniak is waiting to hear if MCF has been approved for grants used for their December events – the Christmas Parade of Lights and the Twilight Time kupuna dinner. To add to her frustration, she said she has never been approached or questioned about the difference in the organizations.

“I’m disappointed in the Chamber of Commerce,” Haliniak said. “If there were questions within the community, [residents] should have come up [to me] in the number of years we’ve been in the community.”

COC is a 501(c)6, a private organization servicing Molokai’s business community since 2001; MCF is a 501(c)3, a nonprofit organization servicing Molokai’s schools and community events since 2005.

One of the COC’s most celebrated features in the community is the Food and Business Expo, which began in 2002. They also offer a Business Education Scholarship.

The organization’s purpose is to promote business and community growth “by designing economic programs to strengthen and expand the income potential of all businesses on Molokai,” as well as encouraging civic, social and cultural programs, according to the Molokai COC website.

Stephenson added there are many events that the Foundation has hosted but are attributed to COC.

“The Molokai Chamber of Commerce supports the good work Barbara and the Molokai Chamber of Commerce Foundation do for the community and we are grateful for their efforts,” he said via email. However, he added, “Having two unrelated organizations with very similar names has created confusion within the community.”

Stephenson said the COC board made the decision, after “multiple conversations with [MCF] on the issue and offered to work on the timing to whatever extent possible…This is simply a procedural matter, a legal formality.”

Stephenson became president of COC in November 2009, when Haliniak retired after nearly 10 years as COC president. 

Haliniak founded COC in 2001, and said she established MCF separately in 2005 to service the community in a way COC could not – as a nonprofit organization. She said she retired from COC in 2009 to focus her efforts on expanding MCF, and said the two organizations she headed were always separated as far as flow of funding.

Since 2007, MCF has helped facilitate and organize the annual Visitor Industry Charity Walk, the Parade of Lights, the kupuna dinner dance, and brings in grants for Molokai schools’ educational opportunities.

Haliniak said she partnered with the high school’s digital media teacher, Perry Buchalter, to bring in $5,000 for computers and other higher technology, as well as with Kaunakakai Elementary Principal Janice Espiritu to bring in funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs. Through her membership on the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), Haliniak estimates MCF has brought around $20,000 to Molokai schools.

The grants she has currently applied for would be “null and void” if she is required to change the name soon, Haliniak said.

“It makes more sense talk story before taking legal action,” Haliniak said. “To be successful you need partnerships…this is not an example of being a partner.”

Haliniak said MCF will present their arguments at a pre-hearing conference in October, and is unsure of the timeline after the November hearing.


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