Council vs. Chamber
There is a cartoonish aspect to the tiff between the Grand Junction City Council and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce — sort of like “Spy vs. Spy” from Mad magazine, in which one side acts and the other immediately retaliates, usually ineffectively.
But there is a serious issue at the heart of this dispute, which resulted Wednesday evening with the current City Council voting to end its membership in the chamber and halt the city’s $6,000 annual contribution to the chamber.
A majority of the current council members were understandably upset by the chamber’s backing of a slate of four candidates for last month’s City Council elections, three of whom won. And chamber members have been angered by a variety of council decisions over the past couple of years.
But the chamber has clearly changed the way it approaches local politics of late. While once it stuck to interviewing and endorsing candidates who supported its broad goals, in this year’s municipal elections, the chamber appeared to field its own slate of candidates.
And as City Councilor Jim Doody noted, the chamber also recently formed an associated nonprofit organization aimed specifically at influencing public policy.
All of that should raise a question for members of the City Council and other elected bodies: Regardless of the outcome of the recent election, is it appropriate for an elected body to use taxpayer money to support an organization so deeply involved in politics? Would the council give money directly to either of the local chapters of the Democratic or Republican parties?
It’s not just elected bodies affected. We’ve heard from a number of local business people who say that, because of its support of the most conservative politicians, they believe the chamber no longer represents their interests.
The chamber does much more than just engage in politics, of course. It is a voice for many of the businesses in the community, provides educational information and seminars for businesses and supports pro-business issues at the Legislature.
And it has a decades-long partnership with the city of Grand Junction that in the past has led to cooperative efforts such as the creation of Operation Foresight to revamp Main Street. It would be unfortunate to lose that partnership over what amounts to political differences of opinion.
The council’s vote to withdraw its membership in the chamber was largely symbolic, since the membership is likely to be reinstated when new councilors are seated next week.
Councilor Tom Kenyon was a voice of reason. One of the incumbent council members who lost to the chamber slate this year, Kenyon urged his fellow council members not to withdraw the city’s membership in the chamber, but to take time to review it and determine what level of city support for the chamber is appropriate. That’s a more reasoned response.
Even though the council’s decision will probably be reversed, the chamber needs to recognize that its increasingly partisan involement in local politics will have consequences, and elected officials have a responsibility to re-examine their membership in the organization in light of those actions.