Chamber positions cause angst

Chamber positions cause angst 
PROP leaves over PAC decision

By Chris Busby

The Portland Regional Chamber is taking heat for two recent political decisions: its vote last month to form a political action committee, or PAC, and its support of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR.

The board of the People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP) has voted to leave the Chamber out of concerns the formation of the PAC will cause political divisions within the group and the community at large. [See “Portland Chamber to form PAC.”]

In an Oct. 12 letter to Chamber president and CEO Godfrey Wood, Grant Lee, executive director of the non-profit social services organization, wrote, “To learn from you that the Chamber Board voted unanimously to pursue the formation of PACs sends a very clear message to us that PROP’s vision for our community is in stark contrast to the Chamber’s. Hence, PROP’s decision to withdraw as a member.”

Wood said today that he has sent a letter to Lee accepting PROP’s membership termination “with regret,” and expressing hope the two organizations will be able to find common ground and restore their relationship in the future. Wood said no other members have quit the Chamber as a result of the PAC decision, and noted that any time the Chamber takes a position on political or policy matters, “we do hear some concern from our members.” 

Case in point: The City of Portland.

The Chamber’s qualified endorsement of TABOR is causing angst among city officials, who largely oppose the statewide spending-control measure on this November’s ballot. (In announcing its support of TABOR, the Chamber noted it “may have flaws and perhaps some unintended and harmful outcomes” which it hopes state lawmakers will address if it passes.) 

In an e-mail to City Manager Joe Gray, Councilor Karen Geraghty pointedly asked if the Chamber had announced its position on TABOR during a recent dinner event attended by city officials. The presence of city officials at the event implies that “the Portland taxpayers paid for some on the City Council and Administration to attend,” Geraghty wrote. “I believe this event is a fundraiser for the Chamber. I hope all appreciate the irony of it.”

The e-mail was also sent to Geraghty’s fellow Councilors, and was CC’d to Press Herald reporter Kelley Bouchard and this reporter, though The Bollard did not receive the original e-mail, since Geraghty used an e-mail address ( which this reporter has never had. 

Councilor Cheryl Leeman shot an e-mail back to Geraghty stating, “Just for the record. NO taxpayer money was spent on my ticket. I was a guest of someone who had purchased a table for the event.” Leeman went on to say the city did not purchase a table at the dinner “as they have in the past,” and added, “what happened to our democracy that respects a divergence of opinions. Whether one agrees or disagrees [with TABOR], I do believe we all have the right to express ourselves freely on this issue or any other for that matter. So what ‘irony’?”

The Chamber’s endorsement of TABOR seems to be behind Gray’s decision not to attend the monthly “city affairs” meeting between Chamber members and city officials this month. Gray declined to comment on “personal conversations” he’s had with Wood, but last week Wood confirmed that Gray told him he will not attend the Oct. 18 meeting at City Hall. 

“I think it’s a shame,” Wood said of Gray’s decision last week. “He’s been a good, active participant in all those meetings.” 

“I wish it wasn’t this way,” Wood continued, “but I think it will change soon. I expect it’s a natural reaction to the position I took on the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.”

Though Gray is not expected to attend the meeting, there was some indication this week that he had softened his stance somewhat, and will allow other city staff to attend in his place. Mayor Jim Cohen said he plans to attend the meeting, at which TABOR will be the chief topic. 

Perhaps unconsciously echoing Leeman’s sentiments, Cohen said, “Many of us are disappointed with the position [the Chamber took on TABOR], but that’s America.”

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