AUGUSTA — When the board of directors of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce meets at its previously scheduled planning retreat next week, the search process for a new president will be a topic of discussion.

Tuesday evening, the chamber’s board of directors, via email, announced that Ross Cunningham, the chamber’s president at chief executive officer since January 2015, is stepping down Friday.

“My guess is that we will probably make an effort to find interim leadership during the search process,” chamber board Chairman Eric Jermyn said Wednesday.

He said the board and Cunningham, who had a contract, could not agree on terms for Cunningham’s new contract, which would have taken effect Jan. 1.

“This is different from Peter’s situation,” Jermyn said. Peter Thompson, longtime chamber president and CEO, announced his retirement in August 2014, saying he would step down in February 2015.

“It was easy for Peter to work out the terms of his contract,” Jermyn said, explaining that Thompson was heading into retirement. In the current case, they faced the possibility of putting Cunningham in a situation of working for the rest of the year while knowing his contract would not be renewed.

Jermyn declined to provide more detail. In the chamber’s 2014 tax return, the most recent available, Thompson’s reportable compensation was $98,044, with $15,147 in other compensation.

“The job of a chamber executive is a complex one,” Jermyn said. In addition to the chamber’s staff, the board president also is responsible for managing volunteers, working with the board members and engaging sponsors. He said Cunningham has significant management experience.

For Cunningham, the opportunities he has to consider are exciting, he said Wedenesday, and he has few concerns about the one he’s leaving behind.

“The chamber has a dedicated and knowledgeable staff, and the board of directors has vision and a true passion for seeing regional growth,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing this area explode with activity.”

Jermyn said times of change are opportunities to make improvements.

“As much as these things can be difficult and challenging and complicated, they can lead to positive change,” he said. “Ross made some high-quality changes that leave the chamber in a better position.”

Among the changes that Cunningham engineered were moving the office from Civic Center Drive to Western Avenue, converting the annual banquet into the black-tie optional “Kenney Awards,” and introducing the “Color Dash,” in which runners are covered in colored dust as they complete a road race.

In the short term, the chamber board is expected to name a hiring committee, as it did two years ago, to guide the organization through the process. The committee is likely to tap the resources available through the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

“Any time there’s a change, there’s a tendency to say, ‘What went wrong?'” Jermyn said. “Here we can focus on what’s going right. We’re choosing to focus on the bright future.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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