Sunshine or Dark Shadows?

If Gilroy Chamber of Commerce members haven’t started seriously
questioning the organization’s handling of local political
endorsements, they should start.
If Gilroy Chamber of Commerce members haven’t started seriously questioning the organization’s handling of local political endorsements, they should start.

The Chamber of Commerce is a civic and quasi-public organization, and in that vein it should make every effort to be open to the community. But when it comes to political endorsements, the Chamber is unfortunately shrouding itself in secrecy.

That secrecy is casting an ugly shadow which members should make clear is unacceptable. The process has to change to allow for openness, scrutiny and understanding. Otherwise, the leading business organization’s political clout will wither and succumb to the cave-like environment the Chamber is creating.

Take the case of City Councilman Craig Gartman, the leading vote getter in Tuesday’s race who will be returning to the Council for four years.

The Chamber Board didn’t endorse the pro-business champion of downtown redevelopment who has supported, for example, the Economic Development Commission wholeheartedly. Why? Sssssshhhhhhhhh, it’s a secret.

The Chamber Board voted to endorse only two council members though three seats were up for election. Why? Sssssshhhhhhhhh, it’s a secret.

The Chamber Board voted. What was the vote tally? Sssssshhhhhhhhh, it’s a secret.

The Chamber Board members, apparently, were instructed not to talk about the process and that leads to scurilous talk and suggestion: Did Mayor Al Pinheiro try to poison the process for the business endorsement because of a political rivalry with Gartman? The mayor’s wife is on the Chamber Board.

There are good and dedicated people on the Chamber Board, but they should not be caught in a process that breeds darkness and suspicion.

Since receiving criticism several months ago about its endorsement process, the Chamber Board clearly circled the wagons this time. That’s not in the best interest of the Chamber’s leadership or its membership.

Several months ago, some Chamber members complained about endorsement by committee and tried to get the Chamber to take a vote of the full membership for any political endorsements.

That’s too bad. A full vote of chamber memebers would certainly carry more weight and encourage candidates to pay attention to business concerns. As it stands, Chamber members, and the general public have no way to evaluate the Chamber’s endorsement – what issues were important and was the process fair. Councilman Gartman, for example, had no idea why the Chamber chose not to endorse him.

The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce should set a shining community example of open democracy in action. Instead, the process has grown increasingly insular, demeaning the agency and its members.

It’s up to the members of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce to demand change. Their dues pay the Chamber’s bills.

It has often been said that voters get the government they deserve. That is equally true for the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, and frankly a demand for change will go a long way toward making a Chamber endorsement a badge of honor instead of a shoulder shrug.

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