Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO announces exit, interim CEO named

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Sandy Morales, president and CEO of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. Courtesy of Laguna Beach Chamber

The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO will depart after just over a year in office, according to a statement issued Tuesday.

In the Chamber’s weekly newsletter to members, Sandy Morales announced she will be leaving the organization and her predecessor, Paula Hornbuckle-Arnold, will take over as interim CEO while a search is conducted for her replacement.

“On a personal note, 2022 has brought me a new opportunity and it is bittersweet that this will be my last Tuesday…” Morales said. “It has been such a blessing to work with so many wonderful people in this community who I will miss dearly.”

Morales thanked the Chamber Board of Directors, city staffers, city council, chamber ambassadors, and Laguna Beach business community for their love and support over the last year.

Last month, the Chamber endured angry letters from residents for failing to stop a Hospitality Night vendor from selling anti-vaccine and anti-communist merchandise in violation of the event’s policies prohibiting political activity.

In a Dec. 24 letter to the editor, the nonprofit’s founder said she emailed Morales before Hospitality Night to share plans to offer patriotic pet bandanas, flags, shirts, hats, and other items with proceeds going to find new homes for abused, sick and senior pets.

“It was unfortunate that that happened. Sandy put in a lot of work. She always does. She’s currently a one-person show and she can’t be everywhere at once. It’s unfortunate someone misrepresented themselves,” said J.J. Ballesteros, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors.

When asked if the CEO’s departure was related to the Hospitality Night dust-up, Ballesteros said Morales was offered a position with a new organization and a larger salary than what the Chamber can afford.

“We’ve been fortunate to have two really strong CEOs over the last few years. We thank [Sandy] for her time and service and wish her well,” Ballesteros said.

As the current board secretary, Hornbuckle-Arnold wants to help see the Chamber through an orderly transition of leadership. She plans to take the reins on Friday.

“COVID is very active again and people aren’t wanting to go to work and we have a lot of things going on in Laguna, including the current political climate,” she said. “We need to continue to be involved again.”

This story idea developing and will be updated as necessary.

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  1. Thank goodness Sandy Morales was pressured to resign, after trying to blame that poor pet rescue vender for her neglect as a representative of hospitality night. That vendor was just selling donated items which they has the green light to sell at the event, such as patriotic gear like American flags, pet bandanas & sweaters, rainbow flags, love hats etc… for this representative to drag that pet vendor through the mud for helping animals with the proceeds from the sales of those items is just shameful.

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