Politics lead to Coté’s ouster from nonprofit

CALSTAR asks him to resign from group
Gilroy – Local political activist Christopher Coté has been asked to step down from a fundraising group for CALSTAR, a nonprofit air-ambulance service, as a result of his increasingly high-profile political activities.

Coté has served since April 2004 on the seven-person advisory council, made up of regional leaders who raise money and in-kind donations for the nonprofit. His parallel life in politics has involved advocacy on education and environmental issues, as well as waging a controversial campaign against the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce in an effort to end its political endorsement activities. Earlier this month, Coté was named campaign coordinator for the South County Democratic Club.

About the same time, he said he received a letter from CALSTAR’s chief executive officer Joseph Cook and advisory council president Gary Boyd asking him to resign.

“They felt the public would have a difficult time delineating between my political activities as opposed to my activities with the board,” Coté said. “They acknowledged that I didn’t do anything improper but that it was a public perception issue and they didn’t want the public to be confused. I told them that I didn’t think the public was confused and I didn’t think it was an issue.”

CALSTAR president Cook said that “as a nonprofit we try to stay away from political issues. As you know, nonprofits get into a lot of trouble dabbling in politics. A nonprofit can lose it’s status by commenting on political candidates. We don’t want to go in that direction at all.”

Cook declined to detail the circumstances that led CALSTAR members to ask for Coté’s resignation, but it appears to stem in part from a May 10 guest column Coté wrote for The Dispatch. In the column, he explained his switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party and alluded to a number of recent local political issues, including his efforts to fight cell towers and the local chamber of commerce.

“For better or worse, my former party abandoned conservative values I honor, like conserving our planet and conserving our children’s health,” he wrote, later adding, “We reject short-sighted views from business chambers and other right wing radicals.”

The letter made no direct mention of Coté’s work for CALSTAR, but included a biography that describes him as a member of group’s advisory council. Coté also has touted his work for the group in various public settings and in correspondence. His tagline on e-mails that are often of a political nature regularly include his position as a CALSTAR representative.

In the wake of the column, local Republican activist Mark Zappa lobbied CALSTAR officials to have Coté removed. And he made no secret about those efforts to Coté.

“I talked to Chris Coté about it, that he was using CALSTAR’s name while doing political activity,” Zappa said. “I did speak to CALSTAR. They were already aware of it because they demanded he write a retraction. That’s between CALSTAR and Chris Coté. I just felt like you have to have a clear delineation between his political work and his work for CALSTAR.”

In fact, Coté wrote a letter in March to the Dispatch distinguishing his politics from his work on the advisory board, but Zappa said even the mention of the two together could damage the group’s appeal to corporate and individual donors.

“I don’t think anybody had anything to do with Chris Coté’s requested removal from the advisory board other than Chris Coté,” Zappa said. “They have to work with all sides – Democrats and Republicans. … When Chris wrote this thing about the Democratic Party, that to me is a partisan activity that has no business in a nonprofit like CALSTAR.”

Coté said he was working on securing a donation for CALSTAR from John Frye, founder of Frye’s Electronics, when he learned of CALSTAR’s decision. Along with Councilman Charles Morales, Coté has helped secure a donation of furniture for CALSTAR, as well as donations of materials and labor from a local construction company for a second helipad at Saint Louise Regional Hospital.

“He helped connect us with various people in the community,” Cook said. “That’s consistent with what other members of the advisory council have done. I feel that the miscommunication is unfortunate. We’re very appreciative of the work Chris did for us. He’s a great guy.”

Leave your comments