Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce’s governing board has set a transition plan into place for its president.
The action came Monday as the board of directors formally accepted the resignation of Chamber President and CEO Krista Ratliff, effective May 31. That action was accompanied by a decision to designate Chamber Executive Vice President Taron Epps as interim president and CEO, effective May 1. The overlap ensures a smooth transition in leadership, said Board of Directors Chairman Dustin Hilliary, who also said that by week’s end, he plans to name the search committee that will find a permanent replacement.
The decisions were outlined by the chamber’s executive board last week as Ratliff made plans to accept the position of executive director of the FISTA Innovation Park, a complex for military defense contractors being created in Central Plaza. Members of the FISTA Development Trust Authority made clear last week they agreed with the transition period between Ratliff and Epps. That includes allowing Ratliff to continue to work for the chamber for a limited number of hours after she takes over as FISTA executive director June 1.
It’s the reverse of a situation that has existed with FISTA for months. Ratliff has been part-time consultant for FISTA, overseeing the issues associated with $20 million in federal funding designated to FISTA from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to continue expansion of its space. Hilliary said a similar “sharing” situation could be put into place if the chamber needed Ratliff’s expertise beyond May 31.
Hilliary said the decisions work into plans already set into motion.
“We met last Wednesday as the executive committee,” he said, of the transition plan that includes Epps. “Taron is more than capable of stepping in as CEO.”
Hilliary said Epps would continue to fill that role as chamber board members begin what will be a regional and national search to find someone to take over the top administrative position. He said the plan is to advertise the position during May, then do interviews with potential candidates in June. That would help the board meet its goal of having a new president in place by mid-summer, in advance of events that will begin in Lawton-Fort Sill in the fall, Hilliary said.
Epps has served as the chamber’s executive vice president since November 2021.
He previously served as senior trainer for Northrop Grumman and operations manager at Amazon. He was a member of the U.S. Army from 1996 to 2020, with assignments to include multiple combat deployments, company fire support officer, platoon leader, unit commander, assignment officer in Human Resources Command, and operations officer. He served as an aide-de-camp for the commanding general of Picatinny Arsenal/PEO for Ammunition.
Epps graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in military leadership. He earned a master’s degree in business management and leadership in 2016.