Tonight, City Council is going to consider giving the Denton
Chamber of Commerce $227,467.
This will provide continuing funds for the Chamber’s Office of Economic
Development. Most of this money will go to pay salaries and benefits.
Now, I don’t doubt that there is much good to be had from
this Office. But as a quasi-public entity, it creates some ethical grey areas.
I won’t be at the Council meeting tonight (I’ll say why in a moment), but I
think it would be good if Council aired some questions about this partnership –
not in an accusatorial way, but rather in the spirit of public education.
A little while ago, the Chamber’s Board (with no notice
given to their full membership) announced their opposition to the proposed
ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing in the city limits.
Here’s my question: Is it right for an organization
supported in significant measure by taxpayer dollars to advocate for or against
We have state laws that
prohibit public employees from spending public funds to support or oppose ballot
initiatives. City Council members can’t even use their public e-mail accounts
to weigh in on ballot initiatives. But here is the Chamber with over a quarter
million public dollars weighing in with a political position.
Now, the people paid for by the contract with the city are
considered employees of the Chamber, which is listed as a private non-profit
corporation. Nonetheless, they are paid for by the taxpayers. Grey area.
Or maybe not so grey...aren't non-profits supposed to stay out of politics? Shouldn't they form a PAC?
The Chamber may not be using city funds to directly take
their political position against the ban (though maybe the Council can ask for
some assurances of that fact). But they certainly are using their significant
clout and cache in our community to leverage their position. And they would not
have as much clout and cache if they didn’t receive large financial
contributions from the city. Grey area.
And it doesn’t clear matters up to say that other entities
might do similar things. As I tell my kids, just cuz she did it doesn’t make it
right for you to do it.
Finally, the reason I won’t be at the Council meeting
tonight, is because I will be at Café Loco (6 p.m. free and open to the
public!) setting the record straight about how the fracking ban will benefit
our economy in significant and measurable ways.
I am not sure if the Chamber should be picking sides on
ballot initiatives. But I do know in this case they picked the wrong side. If
they would have done their own independent critical thinking about the issue,
they’d find what I have found: a ban on fracking will be a major net gain for
Denton’s prosperity and welfare. It also respects everyone’s property rights.
It protects Denton residents from toxic trespass and home devaluation, while
allowing for development of mineral property using less offensive techniques.
Sadly, the Chamber has put its (publically-funded) weight on
the wrong side of this issue. A full page and extremely dishonest ad yesterday
quoted the Chamber, which in turn was quoting an industry report. Now our
Chamber of Commerce has become part of an industry-spun echo chamber.
That’s something the Council should consider tonight.
How about this? If the Chamber is going to take political positions, why not host a public forum first where all sides of the issue can be aired? Why do it behind closed doors with only the Board?