SD Rostra

Is it the Chamber of government, or the Chamber of Commerce?

A very good column was printed in today’s North County Times. It leads one to questions such as: what is a Chamber of Commerce for? What is their rightful role in our society?, and, how do we judge them and what do we do about them if we find they’ve “lost their way”?

By SUNANA BATRA — For the North County Times | Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:00 am |

Traditionally, chambers of commerce exist for the sole purpose of promoting, marketing and advocating on behalf of businesses they represent. In Encinitas, however, an unholy alliance has been forged between the city and its chamber. 

David Meyer, a resident and small-business owner of DCM Properties in Encinitas, explained the problem to me: “The chamber tries to serve two masters.”

In May, Meyer went to Ken Gross, Encinitas chamber president, requesting that the chamber attend a City Council meeting where several fee increases were slated to be on the agenda and insist the city not raise fees on businesses, already heavily burdened, during this recession. Gross assured Meyer that he was on it. The chamber advocated for Encinitas businesses by looking the other way and essentially putting its hands over its ears while repeatedly yelling “I can’t hear you.”

Clearly, Gross didn’t want to upset the apple cart. The chamber receives more than $7K a month from the city in exchange for operating the “Visitor Center.” Gross was a no show. He didn’t send a letter or have a single representative or chamber board member show up to protest the fee increases.

The City Council considerably raised five different fees on businesses, and the chamber got to share in the spoils, by being allowed back on the gravy train last week. Councilman Jerome Stocks was the only member who voted against these fee increases. Soon after, Meyer, along with the owners of several other businesses, decided against renewing membership with the chamber.

What’s even more puzzling is Maggie Houlihan, who requested an independent third party audit from the chamber, chose to pay them even though they failed to provide the required audit, and maintain a commercial insurance policy indemnifying the city, as required by their contract. What compelled her to continue paying a vendor that failed to meet basic obligations it was contracted to meet?  

Instead, a “review” was submitted by an individual who, days after submission, was rewarded with a seat on the chamber’s board of directors. So much for the interests of the city.  

The job of an elected official is to question unelected officials closely and hold them accountable, on behalf of the public, not pander to them. Last week’s vote by the Encinitas City Council showed us they opt for more carrot than stick in dealing with city vendors. Council members Stocks and Teresa Barth did the honorable thing in voting against payment of the funds to the chamber last week.

Most ironic though is this crazy notion that competition, the very essence of a free market system, is somehow bad when it comes to competing chambers. Why else would the chamber and Houlihan oppose the New Encinitas Chamber, started by a private citizen without a single taxpayer dollar?  

All too often, politicians refuse to think twice about the potential unintended consequences of their actions, leaving taxpayers to bail out a city that continues to make stupid decisions.

SUNANA BATRA writes from Encinitas. Contact her at sunanabatra@gmail.com.

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