By editorial board • 

Creation of Chamber PAC would ease angst

The McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce’s increased enthusiasm for politics puts the city’s involvement as a dues paying member with the chamber in a legally questionable position.

Or not.

Local officials last month gritted their teeth at the chamber for siding against city hall on a ballot measure to overturn fines and fees on care centers.

City Attorney David Koch cited state law which strictly limits public employees from taking positions on election issues.

His concerns apparently didn’t run all that deep. Nothing more was said on the matter. City Manager Jeff Towery told the News-Register Oct. 7 there’s no discussion planned at the council level about the chamber’s political activities and, likewise, about the city’s continued involvement with the chamber.

So ends another tempest in a small-town teapot. Or maybe teaspoon, in this case.

It could be with the election just a month away and no other political clouds on the horizon, city officials just want to make nice and keep peace in the family.

However, it’s a funny thing about peace. If you don’t address underlying problems, peace just gives everyone a chance to reload. Now that the chamber has hired a government affairs director, the next battle won’t be far off.

Koch was right to be concerned. City, county and school district employees find themselves in a ticklish position when their government employers are involved with a chamber spoiling for political fights.

Leaders of the Beaverton Chamber of Commerce have a good idea. They formed a political action committee to keep their political battles separate from their day-to-day activities.

The PAC, registered with the Oregon secretary of state’s office, has a separate board, checking account and reimburses the chamber for any staff time that supports the PAC and a candidate endorsement council.

Goodrum and other chamber leaders would be wise to follow Beaverton’s lead.

At a political forum hosted by the chamber Sept. 26, local business people expressed stands on minimum and prevailing wages, family leave, cap-and-trade limits on carbon emissions and working conditions for independent contractors. While many members are aligned in their stances on such issues, the chamber risks alienating its members represent differing opinions

If the chamber intends to champion these positions in the political arena, it needs a PAC rather than purporting to speak as an organization for a wide and diverse membership — including governments that represent an even wider constituency informally known as “all of us.”

City officials may not be concerned about a politically activist chamber, but the rest of us should be.

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