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Columbia Chamber of Commerce endorsements cloaked in secrecy

Business group declines to reveal members who selected City Council candidates to support
Friday, March 19, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – The Columbia Chamber of Commerce has nearly 1,170 members, but only six were involved in recommending which candidates the chamber would endorse in the City Council election.

Nobody wants to reveal who five of those six members were.

For the first time in a history that spans more than 100 years, the chamber endorsed council candidates: Bob McDavid for mayor, Gary Kespohl for the Third Ward seat and Daryl Dudley for the Fourth Ward seat.

Not all the chamber's members feel they were represented, though, especially because the endorsement process happened behind closed doors.

Vicky Riback Wilson, a former state representative and now a fellowship coordinator for the MU Fellowship Office, had been a member of the chamber for more than 25 years. But she dropped her membership, she said, because the chamber was not transparent about the endorsement process.

On Jan. 15, the chamber's board of directors voted to "establish an Endorsement Task Force to review and make recommendations to the board of directors for possible endorsements in the upcoming April election," according to minutes of the meeting. Those minutes did not specify whether the vote was unanimous.

Chamber Chairman Byron Hill of ABC Labs appointed the six-member task force. Chamber board member Randy Coil of Coil Construction chaired it and thus far is the only publicly known member.

Chamber president Don Laird said Wednesday that members of the task force do not want to be known and that Coil would be the one to release any names. Coil, though, referred all comments to Laird.

"(Laird) is the mouthpiece for the chamber," Coil said Thursday. "I'm going to leave that up to Don on what he releases."

Laird later said it was up to the board of directors to allow him to release any information. The Missourian left multiple phone messages with several board members on Thursday but was able to talk with only two. Both Holly Bondurant and Paul Land declined to talk about the situation.

As part of the search for information regarding the task force, the Columbia Missourian requested meeting minutes from the chamber's December, January and February meetings. Chamber meeting minutes generally are not made available to the public.

The chamber, however, is considered a benevolent corporation because of its status as a 501c(6) tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation. Missouri Statute 352.100 requires that all benevolent corporations "shall keep a fair record of all its proceedings, which record shall be open, at all reasonable hours, to the inspection of all its members."

The Missourian is a member; the chamber released the minutes to Missourian General Manager Dan Potter on Thursday, and the newspaper plans to obtain the February meeting minutes after the board approves them at its Friday meeting.

The board voted to approve the Endorsement Task Force recommendations at its February meeting.

"To my knowledge, there were no nays," Laird said of the board's vote to endorse the slate identified by the task force.

Although the Chamber of Commerce endorsed the candidates, Laird said the chamber does not raise money for them.

That didn't stop former board member Tom Atkins and current board member Larry Moore from mailing letters — on plain paper — that tout the chamber's endorsements as a reason to donate to each candidate's campaign and to the campaign in favor of Proposition 1, which would authorize police use of video cameras downtown. The mailings included a return envelope for donations.

"Today, many of the attributes our city has enjoyed are at risk as a direct result of rising unemployment and challenging economic times," the letter reads. "That's why this year, for the first time in our history, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce has chosen to endorse candidates for mayor and the city council. It was not an action the Chamber Board of Directors took without considerable thought and preparation."

The letter is signed by 11 people with connections to the chamber and lists Atkins and Moore as the people who paid for it.

No public documents were used for this report. However, meeting minutes  were acquired through the Missourian's status as a member of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.


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Comments

hank ottinger March 19, 2010 | 7:45 a.m.

So, a semi-secret Chamber cabal, fearful of what they perceive as a decline in Columbia’s economy, endorses three candidates, all of whom have virtually no experience in city governance, no service on any of its boards or commissions (aside from Mr. Kespohl’s service on the Parks and Rec’s board). No wonder, perhaps, that calls aren’t returned to reporters, that anyone involved seems to pass the buck to someone else for information. I’d think that the members of any Chamber of Commerce would be aware that the nation is still stuck in a deep recession and that Columbia, a town doing better than many, needs informed and experienced leaders on its council, not amateurs beholden to members of an organization who appear too embarrassed to identify themselves.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin March 19, 2010 | 10:18 a.m.

I consider Don Laird and his team at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce to be class acts all the way.

In fact, our local business community is filled with classy, bright, talented, and engaging people, of all ages, ethnicity, and gender.

That's why it's been distressing to watch the Chamber of Commerce putting forth a public face that lacks both inspiration and dignity.

The image of a prominent Chamber member with his belt buckle akimbo attacking a sitting council member with rumor and innuendo at a public forum has become so etched in the public's mind this campaign season, that all the really nasty attacks on "non-Chamber" candidates are -- rightly or not -- being attributed to so-called "Chamber hacks."

And with the exception of Bob McDavid, I think the Chamber's candidate slate is disappointing. I got my head handed to me when I ran for public office, after already having served as Chair of the City of Columbia Finance Commission (that's right, Chair); Historic Preservation Commission; Road and Tax Committee; and some other volunteer service things I've forgotten.

And yet, the Chamber eagerly endorses people with a fraction of that service for the highest offices in city government. (Though lacking a formal Chamber endorsement, last year's Rod Robison v. Barb Hoppe battle is another example).

I ask: Where are the Jason Thornhills and Laura Nausers? The quality candidates who, while they might be labeled "pro-business," are discerning enough not to walk a strict, dogmatic "party line" and to approve quality projects over crap.

I was a big champion of the business community back in Seattle, but I've been far less so here, instead choosing to focus on individuals and individual enterprises, and public servants who walk the walk, regardless their political persuasions. Over the past few months, I've figured out why I feel this way.

The public face of our business community is not that friendly. In fact, it's too often the grim, bullying face of an old white guy who's made his millions, wants nothing to change, and doesn't give one iota upon whom he steps or what he bulldozes to make a few dollars more.

(Report Comment)
Dale Jones March 19, 2010 | 1:09 p.m.

I was laughing so hard after reading the Mike Martin article and the people he thought were quality candidates. These two need to be removed also. I am not surprised Mr. Martin lost his bid for public office.

The CCC has a long reputation of contributing to Columbia in a major way. No organization is beyound questioning, but to knock them because the task force didn't endorse other people's candidates. Sore Losers!

The Missourian chose to go big time because of one person who didn't like the process. It only one person who frankly isn't that important compared to the number of important people in the CCC who didn't object. The Missourian needs to be totally objective on the whole situation, not because of Vickie. Get more professional Missourian!!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 19, 2010 | 2:32 p.m.

Golly gee Dale, the Missourian reports news and the Chamber endorsing candidates for the first time in its 100+ year history isn't news in your world? Uh, OK!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 19, 2010 | 2:39 p.m.

And Dale, I am very curious about what dog you have in the hunt when you don't appear to be a registered voter in Boone County...

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin March 19, 2010 | 3:04 p.m.

"Dale Jones" is a fake name. I wish the Missourian would cut out the pseudonyms. They're open to the same criticism as the nicks at the Trib.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock March 19, 2010 | 3:37 p.m.

Mike you and I don't know that the Chamber endorsements are going to vote in crap. They are not even elected yet and to claim we know how they will vote would be wrong. The one thing I find very disparaging is all the bad mouthing that people show towards the Chamber. I mean the Chamber promotes jobs and every house in Columbia was built by a developer. I think Columbia is probably the only town that I know of where if you own a business and you are a member of the Chamber you are some kind of evil person. This town owes a lot to the Chamber. They work to bring in those high tech businesses. Lord knows it is not easy to build anything in this town with all the red tape. Furthermore, the Chamber can only endorse those who run for office. It is not like there hasn't been a rift between Karl and well pretty well everyone so there is no surprise there that he didn't get the endorsement. The fourth ward is wide open and has a variety of people each of which brings a different perspective. City council members like a lot of elected officials just need to have a good head on their shoulders, thick skin, and be good listeners.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 19, 2010 | 4:15 p.m.

I kinda like this guy.
Any candidate that has such a catchy campaign song can't be all bad....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI8WTJV9B...

(Report Comment)
Larry Grossmann March 19, 2010 | 4:47 p.m.

Is this an editorial or a story? Poor one sided reporting, Mr.Sweet will have a great career as a Blog Hack but I hope he is smart enough to hide this story from his portfolio.

"That didn't stop former board member", It sounds here that you think it should have stopped a former president who favors these candidates from touting the Chambers endorsements. Why on earth would anyone even try to stop former Chamber presidents from speaking out. Out of the over 1,000 members of the Chamber, you could only find one who objected? Seems like that would lead you to say "practically all members seem to support the action". For the Record, I have been a Chamber member for 37 years and I have never been so proud of the Chamber as I am today.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 19, 2010 | 5:06 p.m.

@Mr. Grossman:
With all due respect, proud of what?
That it took more than 100 years for this kind of politics to come almost out in the open?
(By the way, I like the Ad Sheet, I'm just not too keen on your picks.)

(Report Comment)
Larry Grossmann March 19, 2010 | 5:35 p.m.

Ray,. I still love The Add Sheet but I did sell it a few years back. I do not understand your comments. I am proud of the action taken by the Chamber even though it took 100 years for this to happen. As for as the process, it is our membership that will evaluate that process, which as explained in the Trib today was based on how the candidates stood on the issues. I'm certain our members will be pleased. We do not need to please the candidates that we do not endorse or those that are not our members and may oppose our choices.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance March 22, 2010 | 1:07 a.m.

John,

What a cyber sleuth you are. You checked Dale's and my name on the Boone county website. One, it is really creepy that someone would do that and two there are quite a few reasons why I and perhaps Dale may not show up.

1) We live out of county, but have strong ties to Columbia
2) We may be convicted felons on parole
3) We may be students that are involved in local politics, but registered elsewhere.
4) We haven't registered yet
5) We may not want to vote, and just be involved in other ways.
6) We may be resident aliens and cannot vote.

John, quit being the "teachers pet" and try to out someone that may have the phony name. By virtue of "looking them up" you might have turned the clock back on someone actually using their real name.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock March 25, 2010 | 4:09 p.m.

Hank Ott shouldn't you disclose that you are the chairman of the Osage Sierra club? I mean you are blasting the Chamber but you fail to mention your club affiliations.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger March 25, 2010 | 4:51 p.m.

To Mr. Sharrock: I wear several hats. My so-called "blast" at the Chamber was not an expression of Sierra Club policy; it was my personal opinion. Would you identify yourself as a Presbyterian (assuming you were one) if remarking upon some issue? Do you recommend that all who weigh in on these comment blogs present a life history along with a list of political, academic, religious, or professional affiliations?

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock April 1, 2010 | 4:49 p.m.

There is a difference in member and chairmen. When you are in a position of authority then you have certain responsibilities if you don't agree then that is fine.

(Report Comment)

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