As the first civil union in Mesa County was taking place across town in Grand Junction, Colorado, verbal fireworks flew at the last meeting of the sitting Grand Junction City Council. In a surprise move, Council voted 4-2 to drop the City’s membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which has continued to support embattled councilman-elect Rick Brainard. Brainard was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after allegedly pushing and hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face just four days after he was elected to office April 2. The arrest has outraged the community and galvanized a grassroots effort to keep Brainard from taking his seat on Council. In a recent TV interview in his own defense, Mr. Brainard called citizens who oppose him “an uninformed lynch mob,” and insisted he will take his seat despite the charges. His statements further inflamed citizens, who have vowed to recall him as soon as the law permits it. The City has said a recall effort will cost taxpayers $45,000. Citizens against Brainard have conducted rallies and marched outside the Chamber of Commerce building and City Hall wearing black and white “No Brainard” T-shirts and “wife beater” undershirts that say “Domestic Violence is a No-Brainard.” Several businesses vowed to quit the Chamber if Mr. Brainard is sworn in and the Chamber continues to back him. The City of Grand Junction for many years was a “Chairman’s Circle” level member of the Chamber — the most expensive membership the Chamber offers, at a cost to taxpayers of $6,000 per year. Councilman Jim Doody noted that the Chamber has also created a 501-c-4 (lobbying) group specifically for the purpose of influencing local elections, but did not disclose how much it spent influencing the last election. The Chamber backed four candidates who ran for four open city council seats in the last election. All of the Chamber’s candidates won, giving the Chamber a controlling majority on Council. Brainard is one of the candidates backed by the Chamber. If Brainard voluntarily steps down, the Chamber will lose its newly-won controlling influence on City Council. Councilman Doody at the meeting also said he has personally attended a number of the Chamber’s legislative meetings and found them “very one-sided,” without any alternative points of view being presented. Outgoing Councilmember Laura Luke said the City’s membership in the Chamber was “a conflict of interest.” In a fiery speech given during the citizen comment period at tonight’s meeting, Jessica Coleman, a 30 year old mother of three, asked the city council members who support citizens against Brainard to join them in walking out on Mr. Brainard’s swearing in ceremony May 6. Coleman also lashed out at Councilman Sam Susuras for continuing to support Mr. Brainard. She revealed she found out through an anonymous source that the incoming council members have met together in secret prior to their swearing in and agreed to make Sam Susuras mayor immediately after they are sworn into office.
Ms. Coleman informed City Council that “recall is imminent” if Mr. Brainard takes his oath and incoming city councilors continue meeting in secret and trying to evade the will of the people. Bob Noble, who ran for city council and lost, also spoke at tonight’s meeting and suggested that Mr. Susuras may be subject to recall as well as Mr. Brainard, if Mr. Brainard insists on being sworn in. Mr. Noble asked local businesses to boycott the G.J. Chamber of Commerce by withdrawing their memberships from the organization.
Video of May 1, 2013 Grand Junction, CO City Council meeting (citizen comments, all regarding Mr. Brainard, start at 40:27 – You may need to download Windows Media Player or the City’s Microsoft Sliverlight player, both accessible here)
Local blog: Demonstrators Protest Brainard, Chamber of Commerce, April 30, 2013
KREX-TV: GJ City Council Withdraws Membership from Chamber of Commerce, May 1, 2013