Modesto Chamber CEO out after 2 months in job, reasons behind her departure disputed

Cindy Marks, the former CEO of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is pictured in downtown Modesto, Calif. in July of this year.
Cindy Marks, the former CEO of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce is pictured in downtown Modesto, Calif. in July of this year. Modesto Chamber of Commerce

Modesto Chamber of Commerce CEO-President Cindy Marks is no longer with the organization after just a couple of months on the job, and the reasons behind her departure are in dispute.

Board Chairman Steve Rank said Friday that Marks on Thursday resigned effective that day for personal reasons. “This is a personnel matter,” he said, “and it’s the only statement the chamber can make at this time.”

But Marks essentially said she was forced out of the $70,000-a-year job, which she had held since June 10, and was trying to get it back.

“I was told by Steve Rank to resign or be terminated,” Marks said Friday. “Initially, I submitted my resignation but have since rescinded (it), and Steve Rank is aware.”

Marks said she was in the process of trying to talk with board members regarding her job. She did not have an update as of Monday.

When asked about Marks’ statement that she had been forced out and had rescinded her resignation, Rank said Friday that he could not comment further. He said Monday that he had no additional comments.

Marks said Friday that Rank gave her reasons for her dismissal but said she did not believe they were valid. Marks declined to elaborate until she had spoken with board members. She also confirmed that her executive assistant, who was a new hire, also is no longer with the chamber.

Board member Pat Gillum said Monday that she could not comment because this is a personnel matter. But she said the board met in closed session last week to discuss a personnel matter. Board member and past board chairman Eric Tobias did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Marks’ departure comes as the chamber tries to rebuild its membership. It had 794 members as of June 30. That’s down from 926 members in December 2015. Rank has said membership has declined since the Great Recession, though he has said that trend has reversed in recent months as part of a campaign to grow it.

The chamber has an annual budget of nearly $700,000.

Rank has said he’d like the chamber to have 1,100 to 1,200 members within 18 to 24 months. And a California Chamber of Commerce official has said that a chamber the size of Modesto’s should have at least 1,000 members.

Marks said in a previous story that she would continue the chamber’s traditional work, such as advocating for and promoting business, but also focus on having the chamber bring the nonprofits, government agencies and others working to make Modesto a better place together to solve problems.

Rank said the chamber board has some time to decide what to do in the short term now that Marks is no longer CEO-president and will recruit to fill the position. He said the board is focused on moving the chamber forward.

Marks also is a longtime Modesto City Schools board member, and she and her husband own Rogers Jewelry, a family-owned chain with eight stores from Reno to Bakersfield.

She replaced longtime CEO-president Cecil Russell. Rank has said about a dozen people applied for the job, and Marks was the top candidate among the three who interviewed.

Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.