Shadowy Chamber “social welfare” group funds billboard thanking racially tone-deaf members of G.J. City Council “for their service”

The Chamber and WCBA’s billboard thanking the most tone-deaf city council members when it comes to racism in Grand Junction

The little-known, seedy political arm of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), has appeared again in Grand Junction, this time funding a billboard praising four sitting Grand Junction City Council members who recently earned the reputation for being the most tone-deaf regarding racism: Philip Pe’a, Duke Wortmann, Phyllis Norris and Kraig Andrews.

Pe’a was the councilman who was so threatened by what he claimed was the presence of G.J. Police Department’s “swat team” at the June 3 Council meeting that he proclaimed he thought he might need to bring his Glock handgun into the meeting. That was the meeting that was attended by a crowd of City residents who showed up to protest pervasive racism they had seen or experienced in Grand Junction, or to support friends who had experienced it.

Grand Junction’s Police Chief later confirmed there were no SWAT team members at the meeting that day.

Kraig Andrews was praised by Wortmann for his “diversity”

Councilman Duke Wortmann focused his condemnation at the meeting on expletives some City residents used while discussing their experiences with racism in town, instead of focusing on the problem of the racism itself. Wortmann also gained notoriety as the guy on Council who lobbied to get Kraig Andrews appointed to a vacant City Council District E seat on Council in July of 2019 by of citing as an asset — of all nutty things — Andrews’ “diversity,” even though Andrews is yet another middle-aged, conservative white male of the same type who have dominated Grand Junction’s City Council since time immemorial.

Phyllis Norris is known for her general downplaying of racism in Grand Junction.

What, exactly, is Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), and what has their track record been like?

Rick Brainard, the “successful candidate” the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce chose, and had WCBA financially back, in 2013 for a seat on city council. Brainard pled guilty to assault the same day he was sworn into his seat on Council. Three quarters of the audience stood and turned their back on him in City Council Auditorium during the swearing-in ceremony.


WCBA is a 501-c-4 dark money “social welfare” group formed by chamber president Diane Schwenke in 2012 to interfere with Grand Junction City Council elections. It’s called a “dark money” group because it doesn’t disclose its donors. Rumors at the time it was formed were that the owners of some of the biggest businesses in town —  all chamber members — donated tens of thousands of dollars to WCBA to aid the Chamber’s effort to seize control of City Council in 2013.

It was likely the case, because that year WCBA pumped tens of thousands of dollars into influencing the races for city council, to try to get more “tea party”-leaning candidates onto Council.

In 2013, WCBA poured an unheard-of amount of money in G.J. — about $10,000 — into electing West Star Aviation executive Rick Brainard to City Council. Brainard won the seat, but just four days after he was elected he was arrested by the GJPD for punching his girlfriend in the face so hard it turned the entire side of her face black and blue. In his official police affidavit, Brainard didn’t just admit to slugging his girlfriend. He told the GJPD he HAD to do it because she “needed to shut her mouth.”

Public anger and disgust erupted in town, but the Chamber and WCBA continued to steadfastly support their protégé, Mr. Brainard, through all of it. The Chamber refused to condemn Brainard’s assault or suggest he should step down from Council and save citizens the hassle and cost of a recall election. In fact, the Chamber and WCBA continued to support Brainard even after he pled guilty to assaulting his girlfriend in open court.


The Chamber and WCBA also backed changing the name of North Avenue to “University Blvd.” and the construction of an events center downtown — two initiatives that went down in flames. Other failed projects they backed included the Brady Trucking proposal (“jobs and trails” that never materialized after voters approved it), large-scale gambling in Mesa County, and the 2015 Riverside Parkway Zig Zag Project that was opposed by every business owner on 25 Road.

These are the same people who put up the billboard thanking the most racially tone-deaf members of the Grand Junction City Council and, by elimination, intentionally dissing the three members of Council who have been far more sensitive to the issues of racism raised in Grand Junction, namely Anna Stout, Chuck McDaniel and Rick Taggart.


  8 comments for “Shadowy Chamber “social welfare” group funds billboard thanking racially tone-deaf members of G.J. City Council “for their service”

  1. I work with the Homeless a lot. As part of Outreach, I contacted DDA to set up a listening event, to hear problems that arise from Homeless/Main Street interface. Three calls, blown off three times. I contacted Chris Brown of Brown Cycles, to ask what the Mainstreet Problems were vis a vis the Homeless, and what would help. He immediately became gruff, and abusive. ” take ’em all to live at your house, see how that works out. He, and the DDA forcefully rejected numerous efforts to solve problems THAT THEY SAY THEY HAVE, and refused to work towards resolving issues on a personal level. Mainstreet Businesses get preferential tax treatment, and are treated like Gods with tax breaks and Grant’s, but DO NOT pay living wages. Whiny, backhanded backroom old boy network!

    • If the homeless received just a modicum of the direct welfare payments (grants, tax breaks, sweetheart land deals, special dedicated police detail) that the Main Street welfare queens do there would be no homelessness.

  2. I am so disgusted by the blatant apple polishing of the Chamber by posting this ridiculous billboard. While I do not agree with all of Ms. Stouts politics, I do respect the fact that she hasn’t let the “Good Ol Boys” bring her down. We need more local politicians like her that cannot be bought or bullied.

    It became patently obvious that this city council is not honorable or noble when they authorized the pilfering of taxpayers money to pay for city employees to have a meal at a restaurant. It was in bad taste and it will be a cold day in hell before I vote for any tax increase that is requested.

    As for the Chamber, I am putting its members on notice that if I see a sticker on your business door that states that you support them, I will be spending my dollars elsewhere. There is no reason to support any business that would be part of such a cabal and it does reflect on the quality of the business, or lack thereof. That’s all.

  3. “Some people have recognized we’re doing a damn good job from an economic standpoint and that’s basically what we’re tasked to do as the board of directors for the city,” Wortmann said. (GJ Sentinel, 7-23)

    Oh, you poor misguided man. I am so sorry the schools you attended did not teach a basic civics class. And no, you are not doing a “damn (isn’t this the guy who objects to obscenities?) good job”.

    Government is not a business and cannot be run like one. It has special responsibilities, health, safety and welfare (of the many, not just CofC cronies) and special powers of legislation, taxation, enforcement and incarceration, to name a few. I am sure the library can recommend a basic civics text suited to your grade level.

    You are not Chairman of an imaginary board of directors. You’re the damned mayor, act like it.

    When 10% or more of the city budget is allocated to direct subsidies for businesses and there are not sufficient funds for police and fire without an additional special tax for the most basic of municipal services something is seriously wrong with city leadership. Or, is it the Chamber of Commerce leadership? Forgive me, I am always confused where one ends and the other begins. “Social Welfare” group indeed.

  4. Grand Junction continues to be ruled by mean-spirited, belligerently ignorant bigots, who scratch their heads while the local economy circles the drain. The local media has consistently done the CoC’s bidding, minimizing COVID’s dangers and enabling the deniers who are going to get a lot of innocent people killed. Now that they’ve finally admitted a fatality (nevermind the ones they are refusing to talk about), it’s too late. Things will get much worse here, and somehow, these idiots will blame Obama and Biden for it. Just watch.

  5. Thanks for highlighting this, Anne. Their “good ole boy” tactics make me sick. That billboard makes me sick. Diane Schwenke makes me sick and has for a long time…..when the heck is her shift up with the chamber anyway?

  6. “It’s all a big club, and you ain’t in it, you and I are not in the big club” George Carlin

  7. Several years ago, a gathering at the Main Library to celebrate immigrants inexplicably featured speeches by Phyllis Norris plus other non-immigrant business owners.

    Mayor-at-the-time Norris stated “I don’t see signs of racism here in Grand Junction.”


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