A business leader who apparently committed suicide last week in Montgomery, Alabama, was director of a 60,000-member association that had long been coveted by rivals with ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove.
Ralph Stacy was a senior vice president at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), and his death apparently took place at BCA headquarters. But Stacy also was president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama (CCAA), whose membership dwarfs that of the more nationally connected BCA.
The two organizations formed an alliance called The Partnership in 2003, not long after Republican Governor Bob Riley took office. But a source tells Legal Schnauzer that, with Riley stained by scandal and his term coming to an end in January, ties between the two groups were splintering.
Did those tensions contribute to Ralph Stacy's unexpected death? Was Stacy's death the result of a power struggle between one organization favoring small business and another leaning toward big business? And did Stacy's death, while seemingly an Alabama event, have ties to national figures such as Rove and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director Tom Donohue?
Stacy has been described in news reports as a close associate of BCA President Bill Canary. But in truth, our source says, the two men had an uneasy relationship--and radically different business philosophies. Stacy became the CCAA's first professional director in 1999, helping to guide more than 120 local chambers around the state, many of them in small towns. Canary, from his days at the American Trucking Association, has ties to big business and national players.
Why would Canary even care about Stacy and his many small-town constituents? Well, Stacy's organization has almost 60,000 members, while Canary's BCA has only about 5,000 members. That discrepancy, our source says, had long gnawed at Canary, Donohue, and Rove, who has deep roots in Alabama from his successful efforts in the 1990s to turn Alabama appellate courts over to Republican control.
Canary's desire to gain control over CCAA's members, and their fees, led to formation of the Partnership in 2003. But it took awhile for the alliance to fully take hold. It was not until December 2009 that the two groups held their first joint annual meeting, featuring Tom Donohue as featured speaker. Here is how the CCAA Web site described the event:
The Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama and the Business Council of Alabama will make history on Friday, December 4, when they hold their groups’ first joint Annual Meeting in Birmingham featuring a keynote address by Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the United States Chamber of Commerce.
Gov. Bob Riley, who has long been a friend and advocate of Chambers across the state, will also attend this important event beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the Harbert Center located downtown.
At the time, Ralph Stacy appeared to be all for the alliance. The CCAA press release states:
“The Partnership, a formal working relationship between the CCAA and BCA, has accomplished many great things in its short history, and recruiting a speaker of Tom Donohue’s stature to our Annual Meeting is one of them,” CCAA President and CEO Ralph Stacy said. “Our national economy is evolving, the direction of our country is in question and Washington is locked battle over our health care system. The U.S. Chamber and its leader are at the epicenter of each of these debates, and all of us are looking forward to his take on the events at hand.”
Stacy would become a formal member of the BCA staff in January 2010, moving into the organization's headquarters. That is where, based on news reports, he apparently lost his life some nine months later.
Was Ralph Stacy's death what might be called a "standard suicide," driven by feelings of despondency. Our reporting, to this point, indicates the answer probably is no. Could he have been pressured into killing himself, under a threat to someone close to him? Was it perhaps not a suicide at all?
Business leaders, in Alabama and beyond, need to be pondering those questions. And they also need to look seriously at the kinds of people they have entrusted with key leadership positions.
Is it possible that Ralph Stacy, after less than a year at BCA headquarters, realized he had jumped in bed with a bunch of pit vipers? Had Stacy also become knowledgeable about the way BCA and its U.S. Chamber partners really conduct business?
Did Ralph Stacy, an ordained minister seeing ugliness all around him, want out? Was someone determined to make sure that Ralph Stacy, and his insider's knowledge, could not leave?
Here is Mr. Stacy's obituary from the Montgomery Advertiser:
STACY, Mr. Ralph, 53, a resident of Montgomery, AL and a former resident of Greenville, AL, died Tuesday morning, September 14, 2010 in Montgomery, AL. Funeral services are scheduled for Friday, September 17, 2010 at 2 p.m. from the First United Methodist Church of Greenville, AL with Father Fred Lindstrom officiating. Burial will be in Oakwood Cemetery, Georgiana, AL. Dunklin & Daniels Funeral Home directing. The family will receive friends at the First United Methodist Church of Greenville from 1 p.m. until service time. He was preceded in death by his parents Herschel and Wylma Stacy. Mr. Stacy is survived by his wife, Angel Stacy and daughter, Savannah Stacy both of Montgomery, AL and other extended family members and friends. Ralph was Director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce for seven and one/half years and associated with the Greenville Advocate for several years. L. Ralph Stacy was the Senior Vice President for Strategic Communications at the Business Council of Alabama and Executive Director of The Partnership, an organization that links more than 120 local Chambers of Commerce statewide and their nearly 50,000 business members with BCA. He was the founding President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, a position he held for ten years. A sixth generation Alabamian, Stacy was a native of Georgiana. As a teenager, he earned the prestigious distinction of Eagle Scout, the highest award given by the Boy Scouts of America. He was a graduate of Huntingdon College, where he was a member of the collegiate golf team. A well known public speaker, Stacy was the recipient of the "America's Champion of Small Business Award"from the National Coalition of Capital, as well as the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama's Jamie Wallace Award for lifetime achievement in 2009. Stacy held the Certified Association Executive professional certification as issued by the American Society of Association Executives. Stacy was a veteran of the print and electronic communications fields, and received two national awards for television and print marketing. He was an author, syndicated columnist and syndicated radio host. He was a member of Class Sixteen of Leadership Alabama, the BCA Board of Directors, the Board of Troy University's Center for International Business and Economic Development, a Governor's appointee to the Alabama Partnership for Children and was President of the Board of Director's of the Alabama Council of Association Executives. He was a founding partner and executive committee member of the Alabama Community of Excellence (ACE) Program. As an ordained minister, he also served as Pastor of the Beatrice Community Church. He was an avid golfer, outdoorsman and reader. In lieu of flowers, the family request donations be made to The Boy Scouts of America. 3067 Carter Hill Rd. Montgomery, AL 36111. For online condolences, please visit: www.dunklinanddanielsfh.com . Dunklin and Daniels Funeral Home in charge of arrangements.