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The proxy battle: Ambassadors sends out a note to its workers

It's not a bad idea to brush up on your knowledge of proxy statements, especially if you have any stock in Spokane-based Ambassadors Group (symbol: EPAX).

Two shareholders, Bandera Partners and Lane Five Capital Management, have each filed preliminary proxy statements, indicating they may or may not be sending out invitations to other shareholders to vote with them on the election of new board directors.

That effort is tied to concerns by those investors, who between them own about 20 percent of the company's shares. They generally regard efforts by Ambassadors board and management as ineffective in reversing a five-year stock decline.

A story on the contest was posted Monday afternoon on Spokesman.com.

Ambassadors is the publicly traded cultural-immersion travel-arranger with offices near the Spokane Airport.

Its CEO Jeff Thomas earlier today released a letter to the company's employees. In it, he said:

"Our board and management team are committed to acting in the best interests of shareowners and are focused on delivering value."

Financial graph from Thomson Reuters.

Area BBB names new CEO

The BBB serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana has a new CEO and president. Eleanor "Elea" Katzele, who has been vice president of the Spokane-based Better Business Bureau since 2007, will step into the position being vacated by Jan Quintrall.

Quintrall has accepted the position of head of the City of Spokane’s business and economic development efforts, the mayor’s office announced Monday.

"This organization has grown so much under Jan's direction, and I'm excited to expand even further in our 100th year," Katzele said in a prepared statement released today. "It's our chance to focus on our Accredited Business services and remind the marketplace what we do; what we're all about."

Katzele said she intends to focus on building relationships with BBB-accredited businesses and encouraging consumers to become educated buyers throughout BBB's three state region.

Prior to working for BBB, Katzele spent six years with Bank of America in various roles. She has a bachelor's degree from Eastern Washington University with management, marketing and HR majors.

Katzele can be reached at ekatzele@spokane.bbb.org.

BBB to post full consumer complaints in detail, starting Jan. 1

Starting Jan. 1, the Spokane-area Better Business Bureau will publish full consumer complaints against companies in the region instead of short descriptions. 

A number of other regional BBBs have also published complaints as a way of adding informationfor consumers to judge for themselves the performance of businesses, said Chelsea Dannen, public relations and media specialist for the Spokane BBB.

The Spokane-based business group covers Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana.

Up until now the BBB has listed the number of complaints a company receives and whether the complaint has been “closed” — either answered by the company or not answered after two attempts for a reply.

Through January, the Spokane BBB will continue to list business complaints in general terms such as billing or collection.

But after that the full text of written complaints will be posted on the organization’s website. When companies send replies, those will be added too, Dannen said. Only revealing and private information will be excluded.

A group of complaints collected since mid-December are being batched together and will be the first placed online, Dannen said.

Ambassadors Group announces quarterly dividend

Ambassadors Group, Inc., which has its Spokane headquarters near the Spokane Airport, said it will pay a quarterly dividend of six cents per share on Dec. 7.

The company arranges tours and professional travel service for student groups and for professionals.

The dividend will go to all common shareholders of record as of Nov. 23. 

Ambassadors adds GPS phones to its summer travel groups

Spokane's Ambassadors Group will introduce a safety feature that gives its teachers, while on tour, emergency-enabled international global positioning system cell phones.

Providing a GPS phone to tour groups is a first among companies offering student travel, said Meredith Banka, vice president of marketing for Ambassadors Group. The company promotes student education tours with accompanying adults and teachers. 
"Student travel safety is our No. 1 priority," Banka said in an email. "Annually we spend more than $3 million on our safety practices and procedures," she said.
That announcement came after a Minnesota couple launched two nonprofit groups to encourage and advocate for safer student travel and exchange programs. Those sites are ClearCauseCoalition.org and ClearCauseFoundation.org.
The two sites launched on the anniversary of the birthday of their son, Tyler Hill, who was 16 when he died of a health problem while on a student ambassador trip to Japan in 2007. The company settled with the family after they filed a wrongful death suit but admitted no wrongdoing.
"We believe the impact of international student travel is valuable for all students, even those with pre-existing medical conditions," Bank added in the message.
"We take extensive precautions to ensure that all pre-existing conditions are disclosed prior to travel, and that proper physician approval is obtained," she said, adding travelers and student families bear the chief obligation to follow proper medical protocols.