[Note: 08 April 2009, someone from the Chamber sent a mass email notifying members of the upcoming Tea Party in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Many of us were glad to receive the information. I was glad to find we had a local Tea Party and attended that event today - it was a great non-partisan event. The president of the Chamber works for the City of Hayden (commerce???) and this is the disclaimer she sent the following day. I sent my response less than an hour later.]
The participation of the chamber members is measured in part by the responses we get in attendance at events and from the responses to information that we send out. I am happy to say that we have an active and vibrant membership!
The issue at hand is the response that has come back following the mass email that was sent yesterday regarding an upcoming event: The Kootenai County Tea Party. While in theory this is not a political event sponsored by any specific party, in actuality it falls into the gray area of perception.
“The question of perspective can be controlled somewhat by the form into which the rhetoric casts the remarks. The audience renders a decision based on the articulation of values with which the listener already agrees or disagrees.” R.H. Carpenter
What the heck am I saying, you ask! Whether you agree with the premise and values of this event is not the issue, the issue is perception of what is being said, by whom, and whether it belongs in the Hayden Chamber at all. While this event is sponsored by a collection of groups in Kootenai County, it still is a political rally. By informing our membership of it, have we promoted the chamber and the goals of the chamber, or have we diminished our reputation and sided with one political group or another? I don’t have the clear cut answer to this question!
I have posed this question to the Government Affairs Committee and asked that we have a policy of sending out information in the future. Basically what was decided was that the board should look over anything that is going out and try to be balanced and fair in the decision to censor or change content. Personally, I just would like to see our membership be sensitive to the fact that we choose not to be a partisan group and that perception is everything to content!
There are more valuable ways of getting partisan information out than mass emailing our members. Individuals or groups should be responsible to incur the cost of advertising things that do not benefit the group as a whole. If we set the precedence that you can call Cat Smith and ask her to send out a mass email and she does it, then she has to do it for everyone that calls and asks. It should not be her responsibility to make the decision as to the appropriateness of the mass email. Let’s not put her in that spot!
Please email the board if you have something that you feel is worthy of going out to the general membership. This means that you will have to get that to us prior to our monthly meeting, the third Wednesday of each month. Then we as a board can decide if we feel it meets the goals and criteria of the chamber. I know that we cannot please all of the members all of the time, but I think that we can collectively decide if the content is going to be perceived as a political statement. If we feel it is one the chamber is willing to put out as an official opinion, then it will be approved to be sent out by mail. Luckily we have the structure to do that. This board was elected by the membership and is a good representation of all aspects of business and commerce. Let’s use it the best way we can and avoid putting our staff in awkward and no win situations.
Cat asked me to apologize for her. While I appreciate her sentiment, I think that we have all learned from this situation. Let’s work TOGETHER to make this the best chamber ever!
Nancy Lowery, President – Hayden Chamber of Commerce
NOW MY RESPONSE (about which, I have not heard back. My store, Unique Motif is a member):
While I can appreciate your viewpoint I cannot accept your premise. First and foremost, this is a chamber of commerce. Though the organization has become diluted in the last few decades by incorporating government representatives, schools, lawyers and such, the fact remains we are about commerce. Taxation and regulation are the largest impediments to commerce. In that respect, to stand up against taxation is not a partisan issue, it is a commerce issue.
Thank you for your concern. However, I was not offended by the Tea Party notice and I would tend to suspect that most commerce-oriented members of the Chamber, whether Democratic or Republican, were not offended either. I would suspect the government-oriented members of the Chamber were more likely to be offended. But their opposition is in the spirit of their careers and not in the spirit of commerce.