City Council shouldn’t funnel taxpayer funds to the chamber
Monday, the new Grand Junction City Council members, as their first act, voted to restore city funds to the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
Given the fact that the previous council voted 4-2 to terminate the relationship, it seems impetuous for this inexperienced council to jump to an important decision so quickly. Especially since the two continuing council members who voted to terminate the relationship were absent.
Rather than treat this issue as a tit-for-tat, the new council should recognize that a significant portion of Grand Junction voters do not agree that the chamber should be subsidized with their taxes. Nor do we all agree that the chamber is a benign force for the economic good of the community.
While it once might have been routine to funnel public money to the chamber as membership fees, that practice is coming under scrutiny as the special interests represented by the chamber come into conflict with the interests of the community.
The affiliation of the city with the Chamber of Commerce has lately become controversial, as the chamber takes a more active and partisan role in city elections. It has brought in a new affiliate to help sell its economic policies and advance its chosen political candidates.
The Western Colorado Business Alliance wants everyone to stay in the know about policies that can impact the overall business climate, President Michael Anton said recently.
Just to be sure small business operators know about such issues, the WCBA will save them the time and effort of informing themselves about policies by telling them how to vote.
Welcome to machine politics. In America, a political machine is an organization that controls sufficient votes to maintain political and administrative control of its community. The last election suggests the Chamber of Commerce is aiming to establish such a political machine in Grand Junction.
Although the WCBA is said to be a subsidiary of the chamber, it apparently answers to no one. “We have our own board. We have our own separate charter. We have our own legal status ... so we’re hoping to be our own entity working with the chamber to promote and educate the public (for) all of the elections and election type processes of the area,” Anton, told KJCT.
The WCBA was behind the scenes in the campaign to keep Brady Trucking on the river, The Daily Sentinel’s Amy Hamilton reported. As a 501c4 organization, the WCBA was not required to reveal either its sources of money, or its expenditures on behalf of Brady. When asked to do so voluntarily for the sake of transparency, the group simply refused to open its books.
WCBA is also able to funnel money to candidates with equal secrecy. The dark money spent electing the chamber’s chosen candidates in the April election shows how effective these unaccountable funds can be in local elections.
Apparently Councilman Jim Doody and three of his colleagues were sufficiently concerned about the direct involvement by the chamber in electoral politics to vote in favor of terminating the relationship between the council and the chamber.
The council represents the voters, but the Chamber of Commerce is a special-interest group that frequently finds itself at odds with the community. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has a history of resisting reasonable regulation of the energy industry to protect public health and the quality of life in western Colorado.
Its concept of what is good for business rarely takes into consideration pure air to breath, clean water to drink or a healthy environment in which to live our lives.
For years, the chamber has been a major force against industry regulation and environmental protection. It continues to oppose reforms now in the Legislature to make public health a more important part of the COGCC mission.
It wasn’t a punitive spirit that compelled Councilors Bennett Boeschestein, Doody and their colleagues to cut ties with the chamber.
It was their recognition that an overtly political organization like the chamber has become has no basis for a special relationship with the City Council.
Maybe we need a change in the city charter to make that clear.