Farmington Chamber loses executive director, events/communications director

Less than a month after her first day on the job, new Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Laura L. Bolyard has resigned.

And while a press release notes that Kristin Curle-Houchins, Director of Communications and Events, also “left the Chamber,” Curle-Houchins says Chamber board members asked her to resign, she refused and was fired.

Bolyard replaced Dan Irvin, who left in July after 21 months, and is now general manager of Laurel Park Place mall in Livonia. She had previously served as Huron Valley Chamber of Commerce office and events manager and, from 2003 to 2005, co-executive director of the Chamber of Commerce for the South Lyon Area.

Ian Ferris, 2 1/2, shares his Christmas wish with Santa during Holly Days 2014.
Greater Farmington Area Chamber Board of Directors president Karen Blazaitis says Holly Days – with its annual visit from Santa – will go on as usual this year, even though the Chamber is looking for a new executive director.

Curle-Houchins said she had also applied for the executive director post, but held no ill feelings toward Bolyard, because “that’s not who I am… It’s not going to do anybody any good if I’m a jerk because I’m upset.” So from Curle-Houchins’ perspective, the two had a good working relationship.

“We got along really well,” Curle-Houchins said. “I did my best to help her.”

After arriving in the office on the morning of October 17, Curle-Houchins said she was told that Bolyard had left her keys with another staff member and said she might not come back Monday morning. When Bolyard didn’t show up, a staff member called one of the Chamber board members. No word came Monday, but a Board of Directors meeting had already been scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Curle-Houchins said she arrived in the office at around 9:20 a.m. on Tuesday, after dropping off some materials to a Chamber member. She found three board members had already begun meeting with staffers. When her turn came, she said, the news nearly knocked her off her chair: Her employment was terminated, and she was asked to sign a letter of resignation.

“I said, ‘Give me a reason’, and I was told, ‘no reason, it’s just a decision we made’,” she said. “I asked for more information, but they wouldn’t elaborate.”

Curle-Houchins said she was also told the firing was not personal.

“I said, ‘That’s funny, because it feels incredibly personal.’,” she recalled.

‘One of the best experiences of my life’

After consulting with a family friend who is an attorney, Curle-Houchins opted against resigning.

“That’s not something I would have done,” she said, noting her love for the job and for the Farmington/Farmington Hills community. “As odd as it was to be ‘baseball traded’, it was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Curle-Houchins started her local career in 2011 with the Farmington Downtown Development Authority (DDA). When the Greater Farmington Area Founders Festival and other DDA events moved to the Chamber, she and events planner Janet Bloom moved with them. In addition to the Festival, Curle-Houchins was also heavily involved with the “Light Up the Grand” holiday parade and Holly Days, along with Chamber ribbon cuttings and networking events.

“Downtown business people and Chamber members have reached out to me…I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring,” Curle-Houchins said. “I would expect nothing less from this community.”

Karen Blazaitis, who serves as president of the Chamber board, wouldn’t comment on personnel issues. A press release issued last week noted, “The Board of Directors is appreciative of both Laura and Kristin and their work on behalf of the Chamber and its members… While the search for a new Executive Director continues, the Chamber wishes to assure its members and the public that all scheduled events will go on, and that Chamber staff will continue to meet the needs of our members.”

In addition, Blazaitis said, a group of community and Chamber members will meet on October 24 to ensure that Holly Days will “be the best one yet.” She said the Farmington Farmers and Artisans Market’s holiday greens event is joining this year’s celebration.

“If there is a silver lining in all of this, the community has rallied around the Chamber to offer its support,” she added.