36 search results for "Diane Schwenke"

Why Average People Shouldn’t Listen to the Grand Junction Area Chamber

chamberIt’s election time again, and soon the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will issue it’s “2016 Voter Guide” in an attempt to try and influence how people in Mesa County vote on ballot measures and local elected offices.

If you’re an average, hard-working working citizen in Mesa County, there is only one thing you need to know about the chamber’s voter guide: ignore it.

Why?

Because the chamber doesn’t represent Mesa County’s working population. It exists solely to promote the financial interests of the few Mesa County businesses who pay its dues, and nothing more. What’s more, most businesses oppose measures aimed at helping workers and their families, so the chamber reflexively opposes any ballot measures that would benefit the thousands of workers and residents who spend money locally and really keep this area humming.

Western Slope Workers’ Public Enemy #1: The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Department of Labor says that in 2014, the Wall Street bonus pool was roughly twice as much as all minimum wage workers' pay

The U.S. Department of Labor says that in 2014, the Wall Street bonus pool was roughly twice as much as all U.S. minimum wage workers’ pay combined

On August 1, 2016 the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to a ballot initiative to raise Colorado’s minimum wage to $12/hour. The main reason the chamber gives for opposing the higher wage is a claim by Economics International Corporation — a company located in Portland, Oregon — that raising the minimum wage in Colorado will put 90,000 Coloradans out of work, mostly younger people.

Consider the Source

So who is “Economics International Corporation”?

It is a one person consultancy run by a man named Eric Fruits, who hires himself out as an expert witness in economics and statistics. The official registered business location of Economics International Corporation is “4318 NE Royal Court, Portland, Oregon 97213,” a four bedroom, three bathroom home. Fruits is the sole registered officer, agent, president and secretary of the corporation.

Economics International Corp headquarters

The official registered headquarters of the Chamber’s expert on Colorado economic issues, is this 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house in Portland, Oregon

Fruits specializes in “litigation support” for businesses, meaning he hires himself out to say whatever his paymasters need him to say, much like independent scientists did for the tobacco industry in the 1970s-1990s.

Why Western Slope Republicans are Useless Anachronisms

Colorado House Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) continues to promote drilling for methane gas -- the most potent greenhouse gas -- as an "incredibly clean fossil fuel" that "reduces emissions."

Colorado House Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction) continues to promote drilling for methane gas — the most potent greenhouse gas — as an “incredibly clean fossil fuel” that “reduces emissions.”

Western slope Republicans constantly point to a “war on coal” or a “war” on drilling and fracking as the cause of massive job loss. They scapegoat western slope residents who are concerned about degradation of the environment and global climate change, while clinging to tired, predictable responses like boosting extractive energy industries that are technologically on the way out.

Republicans’ hand-wringing and finger-pointing reveals their narrow view of what is happening in our world.

Blaming Obama and environmentalists for job loss is like looking at the Grand Canyon through a toilet paper tube and saying you know everything about what’s there.

Sentinel Highlights Mesa County’s Desperate Economy

Today's Sentinel talks about the desperate state of the local economy

Today’s Sentinel talks about the desperate state of the local economy

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel printed an article about the desperate state of Mesa County’s economy on the front page of its Business section today, written by business writer Greg Ruland.

Titled “Living wage tough to come by,” it describes how financially strained Mesa County families are compared to other families across the state. A study that showed that in Mesa County a family of four would need an annual income of $53,000-$65,000 to fund only the most basic needs of housing, food, health care, transportation, child care, taxes and an emergency fund. Ruland writes that the average wage in Mesa County “falls as much as $20,000 short of what single parents with three children must earn to cover the cost of a family’s basic needs.”

The cost of basic needs in Mesa County has increased over the last decade, but during that time wages in our area have stagnated, leaving Mesa County citizens worse off than ever.

A record number of people in Mesa County now use food stamps, and the number has climbed each year for the last eight years. About 18,500 Mesa County residents now receive government food assistance every month — more than double the number who got food assistance in 2008.

Ruland reports that a single mother working two full-time minimum wage jobs in Mesa County to try and support her family would still have an income low enough to qualify for food stamps.

That’s pretty bad, but not bad enough for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce to come anywhere close to supporting an increased minimum wage.

Grand Junction Area Chamber: Let Them Eat Cake

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, secure in her $134k/yr job

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, secure in her $134k/yr job

You’d think the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce would be deeply concerned about this state of affairs, but even in the face of the desperate financial straits of thousands of families in Grand Junction, Diane Schwenke, President of the Grand Junction Chamber, scoffed at the notion that raising the minimum wage (currently $8.23/hour) would benefit local families. In the Sentinel article, she dismisses the notion as “contrary to capitalistic principles,” and suggests that instead government needs to find ways to further lower the cost of basic living necessities, like food and housing. Neither Ruland nor Schwenke mentioned that the federal government already subsidizes a long list of agricultural staples like wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton, and even has a dairy subsidy program that pays farmers whenever milk prices fall below a certain level. In addition to promoting further reliance on government for help, Schwenke, who as always sticks to the same failed ideas she’s backed for decades, added that the quickest way to raise low wages in our area would be to increase oil and gas extraction operations. She sticks to this message despite knowing that disastrous economic fluctuations occur constantly in the oil and gas industry, and that our area’s past of embracing extractive industries like uranium, oil shale, coal, fracking and hazardous waste disposal have wreaked economic, health and environmental havoc on our area’s residents for decades. So why does Ms. Schwenke rely on the same tired, old ideas that have long been proven a bane for our area’s desperate economy?

Weak, barely-legible and ineffective signage attempt to address homelessness and poverty in Grand Junction

Weak, barely-legible and ineffective signage attempt to address homelessness and poverty in Grand Junction

Perhaps it’s because Ms. Schwenke doesn’t need to be concerned with coming up with new ideas to boost Grand Junction’s failing economy. She’s been comfortably entrenched in her position at the Chamber since 1989, even though her activities have brought heavy criticism to the chamber’s untoward political dealings and lip-service programs over the course of her career. The Daily Sentinel reported Ms. Schwenke’s compensation package is $133,930 yearly — about 4.8 times the annual per capita income in Mesa County, and twice Mesa County’s average annual total household income. Ms. Schwenke is obviously free of any concerns about being fired. She doesn’t even seem to need to demonstrate the effectiveness or lack thereof of any economic-related programs at the chamber, either. She doesn’t have to worry about working two jobs or putting food on her own table, so she’s free to repeat tired platitudes about the oil and gas industry being the area’s salvation for as long as she likes. 

For its part, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership referred to this latest devastating report about Mesa County’s abysmal economic status as “a call to action” to recruit higher-paying industries to the area. It’s nice that they seem to care, but like the Chamber, GJEP hasn’t offered any few new ideas about how to do this, either.

Obvious Opportunities Completely Ignored

DenverEconomyIn the mean time, Mesa County families continue to scrape by using food stamps, homeless shelters, the Salvation Army, secondhand stores, food banks and charitable organizations that try to alleviate hunger, like KidsAid, while low-cost, practically-guaranteed effective, obvious new opportunities for economic expansion continue to be completely ignored.

Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012, the new marijuana economy has generated tens of thousands of new high-paying jobs around the state, mostly in mountain towns and on the front range. But not here, because local leaders have banned marijuana-related activity in our area. New marijuana businesses employ tens of thousands of Coloradans as growers, security system installers, lab techs, scientists, agricultural and nursery experts, trimmers and tenders, compliance and quality inspectors, hydroponic equipment sales and experts, agricultural-related sales, accountants, lawyers, blown glass artists, industrial and retail construction companies to build greenhouses and retail stores and specialized distribution systems. While western slope warehouses sit empty, there isn’t enough commercial warehouse space to handle all the new business from the new marijuana economy on the front range. Denver property values are soaring, new houses, condos and shopping malls are being built, while property values in Mesa County are flat or diminishing. The front range’s growth from the new marijuana economy has been so spectacular, television networks are making TV documentaries out of it, drawing more people and investment into the state

But not in Mesa County.

Opportunities to Put Grand Junction on More Maps Passed up

Western slope elected officials also flushed a wonderful opportunity to add Grand Junction to national park maps several years ago after they ditched a massive effort that gained tremendous public, private and business consensus to change the Colorado National Monument into a national park. Keeping the park listed as a national monument keeps tourists driving around Grand Junction looking for a statue or plaque instead of the stunning 28,000 acre area of canyons and stone monoliths that the Monument really is. How many tourists simply stay on I-70 because they think the “monument” is just another statue somewhere? As a national park, the Colorado National Monument could be a much bigger natural tourist attraction. A change of name would be all it would take to give tourists a better idea of what the Colorado National Monument really is. Similarly, tourists don’t know what a “Mcinnis Canyon” is, or why it might be something special to see, because they don’t know what a “McInnis” is. But they would certainly get a much clearer idea of the spectacular scenery they’d encounter if they saw “Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area” on the map instead of “McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.” If only the more descriptive name referring to the area’s natural features could be restored to western slope maps as well, it could increase the number of people coming to Grand Junction to enjoy more of our outdoor amenities. Changing the names of these areas would only cost a few bucks, and could bring more notoriety and tourist dollars to the area. A cheap and easy fix if there ever was one.

Add a World Class Outdoor Recreational Amenity in Almost Nothing Flat

The maintenance road banks of the Grand Valley Canal System could be a world-class outdoor recreational amenity if a few gates were opened, a few gravel trailheads installed and a few signs put up

The maintenance road banks of the Grand Valley Canal System could be a world-class outdoor recreational amenity if a few gates were opened, a few gravel trailheads installed and a few signs put up

Opening up the Grand Valley’s stunning irrigation canal maintenance banks to non-motorized public recreation would create some of the most fantastically beautiful and accessible strolling, walking, running and mountain biking paths in the U.S. The irrigation canal system and its banks were built by the U.S. government Bureau of Reclamation in the early 1900s as a massive project to help bring settlers to the area by irrigating what would otherwise be arid desert land in the Grand Valley. The canal system criss-crosses the valley from north to south and east to west, and its maintenance banks are a ready-made system of dirt and gravel roadways paralleling some of the most scenic waterways in the western U.S. They run all the way from the spectacular fruit and wine byways in Palisade and East Orchard Mesa, to the beautiful paved riverfront path along the Colorado, from Palisade to the Loma boat put-in. Open a few gates, put in a few gravel parking areas and signage and bingo! The Grand Valley would have a star attraction that would get bicycles off the streets, provide motorless ways to criss-cross the valley, contribute to outdoor recreation and public health and boost tourism. It would also draw outdoor recreationalists who would come and stay in area hotels, dine at area restaurants and shop at local stores. There are already state laws in place protecting private landowners along the banks from liability. More of an effort needs to be made to create this fantastic amenity that lies literally at our feet.

There is SO much waiting to happen in Mesa County, and it has all been nixed for so long. It’s getting painful to see so many obvious ideas for turning Grand Junction into a destination city shunned, dismissed and ignored as impossible by our same old last-century “leaders.”

Until we overhaul and re-stock the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Grand Junction Economic Partnership, G.J. City Council and Mesa County Commission and other powerful boards and commissions with an entirely new slate of fresh,open-minded, creative and forward-looking thinkers who really have residents best interests at heart, our area will stay in the same economic death spiral we’ve been in for decades. But keep the same old people in the same positions of power with their same comfortable salaries and solid job security, and we won’t see any new ideas around here in our lifetimes. We’ll keep relying on things like uranium, oil and gas, fracking, creation of more hazardous waste dumps, coal mining and other doomed, last-century industries until Mesa County residents finally decide it’s time for that nonsense to end.

Nevertheless, we owe thanks to Greg Ruland for an excellent article about the continuing problem of Mesa County’s stagnant economy, if not for exploring more ideas about how to improve it.

  

G.J. Chamber Ad Promotes Low — Um, NO Wages

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce's ad in the 7/27 Daily Sentinel

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s ad in the 7/27 Daily Sentinel

An ad run by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce in last Monday’s Daily Sentinel featured this headline, designed to make local employers drool. After all, from a business owner’s standpoint, what could be better than employees you don’t have to pay? At one time this was called “slavery,” but let’s not let that little detail sidetrack us.

The ad was about a Mesa County Workforce on-the-job training program in which the Workforce picks up 50-90% of the employees’ wages for a set period of time, so employees can get experience and training. Once you get past the Chamber’s demeaning headline, the program sounds great, but this really seems like entirely the wrong way to promote it. The ad’s headline is a slap to local workers and the thousands of low-wage earners in Mesa County.

Things are hard for working families in Mesa County. A living hourly wage for a family of two working adults and two children in Mesa County is $15.02/hour, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the average per capita hourly wage in Mesa County is just $12.83/hour. Workers in Mesa County on average earn 85% of what others in the state earn, and almost 15% of Mesa County citizens live below poverty level, compared to 13.2% for the state as a whole. To make things worse, local elected officials reject out of hand new economic opportunities literally laid at our feet — like making the Colorado National Monument into a national park, and participating in the growing and prosperous marijuana industry — that could greatly help lift Mesa County’s long-suffering economy.

Grand Junction’s Growing Hate Community

This vehicle provides a sample of the hate-filled mentality of many citizens of Mesa County, Colorado

As the feds mull hate crime charges against Dylann Roof, the shooter in the June 17 massacre at a historic black South Carolina church, the presence of hatred, bigotry and intolerance is growing more evident in and around Grand Junction every day, and it’s not a comforting sight.

Remember this hate-filled, wing-nut truck spotted in Whitewater a few weeks ago?

 

The truck belongs to a local guy named “Marc” who operates a business that manufactures fake fiberglass rocks sized and shaped specifically to hide an arsenal of firearms. Marc designed the rocks to hide rifles, in particular an M4 carbine semi-automatic rifle, and according to his e-commerce website, “a butt load of ammunition.” Marc’s fake rocks come with a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution, and they sell for $925 each. Marc also makes fake, hollowed-out tree stumps designed to hide small arms, like pistols.

The front page of Marc’s e-commerce website bears a threatening “WARNING” to all potential customers. He writes,

If you…

  • Are a liberal or in anyway support the willful destruction of America by this [Obama] regime or…
  • Refuse to recognize that this “shining city on the hill” was founded on Christian principles or…
  • Regard English as your “second language” and are content to let it remain as such…

DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER PURCHASING MY PRODUCT! [MY PRODUCTS] ARE HANDCRAFTED BY PATRIOTS FOR PATRIOTS!

So right up front as part of his business plan, Marc parades his paranoia and intolerance of people with differing political opinions, religions and nationalities.  Below is a photo taken from Marc’s fake rock website, showing Marc and a friend, armed to the teeth with powerful weapons, posing along side the truck he has splattered with paranoid messages.

"Marc" proudly poses alongside his paranoid, hater truck

“Marc” proudly poses alongside his truck

What’s really troubling is that Marc is not an anomaly in the Grand Junction area. He is one of a growing number of Mesa County business owners who are “out” about the hatred and disgust they harbor towards area residents who are different from them. They revile, condemn and insult ethnic minorities, political progressives, women, people of other nationalities and religions, and people of no religion — in short, anyone who differs from them in their beliefs, physical appearance or cultural background.

G.J. Chamber Opposes Local Businesses Again, Appears to Be Losing Influence

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, who turned the G.J. Chamber into a branch of the Tea Party (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, who turned the G.J. Chamber into a branch of the Tea Party (Photo Credit: YouTube)

In its 2015 Voter Guide, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce urged voters to approve Referred Measure 2B, which would have authorized the City to take on millions in debt to extend the Riverside Parkway along 25 Road. Almost all businesses on 25 Road strongly opposed the measure, saying the City blindsided them by failing to let them know measure even existed until it was safely scheduled to go on the ballot. The business owners opposed 2B because it would have let the city seize land fronting their businesses, and harmed their businesses by subjecting the road to an extended construction period. Curiously, the measure also would have zig-zagged the Parkway through existing business and residential areas instead of building it according to the original plan, which simply extends the existing Parkway route further west down River Road to 24 Road.

Once again, the chamber’s position on an issue was diametrically opposed to the one held by the very local businesses it claims to represent.

Council Candidates Sound Like Broken Records, Ignore Constituents

It's the same-ole, same-old from Council candidates again this year. Who supports all the other folks?

It’s the same-ole, same-old from Council candidates again this year. Who supports all the other folks in town besides business and property owners?

Candidates for the contested seats on the Grand Junction City Council are all starting to sound the same. Kim Kerk supports “property owners rights” and a “business friendly community.” Duncan McArthur is for “private property rights” and the “small business owner.” They sound just the same, don’t they? Dennis Simpson says he’s a “fiscal conservative,” and McArthur is for “fiscal responsibility,” but aren’t these the same thing? Basically, it’s code for even more belt-tightening for our community.

It’s like listening to a broken record. And it’s folly for voters to listen to them.

Business owners and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce wield outsized influence in Grand Junction, and they’ve shown citizens time and again that believing anything they say or do at election time is completely absurd.

Kim Kerk also supports the same old constituencies. Don't others matter?

Kim Kerk also supports the same old constituencies: private property owners and business owners. Why don’t the rest of us matter?

The chamber portrays itself as the single most important political voice in town because it represents businesses, but only a fraction of area businesses actually belong to the chamber and according to the chamber’s membership list, many of their members are from outside of the area. The “Grand Junction Chamber” has members in Denver, Arvada, Lakewood, Greenwood Village, Centennial, Glenwood Springs, Moab, Utah, Reno, Nevada, Houston, Texas, and even Washington, D.C…. Why should any company based on the front range or another state have any say or lobbying power over Grand Junction’s issues or candidates?

What’s more, valuing businesses more highly than ordinary, hard-working city residents has cost this city dearly and set us far behind smaller western slope towns. For years, maybe even decades, Grand Junction citizens have been craving a public recreation center, like the ones the cities of Fruita, Delta, Montrose and Durango have already built for their citizens. Over and over, our City Council has denied residents this same wonderful amenity based on an unproven premise that building such a facility might possibly be detrimental to less than a handful of private businesses in town, like gyms and athletic clubs. A couple of businesses vs. tens of thousands of citizens who could benefit from such a facility. Why are city residents always the losers in this kind of issue?

Haven’t Grand Junction residents sacrificed their quality of life on the altar of almighty private business long enough?

Businesses and the Chamber: Unreliable Voices at Election time

The chamber promised G.J. voters if they voted to zone this parcel by the river to light industrial, Brady Trucking would bring in a bunch of $70,000/year jobs, and build trails and landscaping by the river. Voters passed the measure, but this is how the site looks today.

The chamber promised G.J. voters in 2013 if they voted to zone this parcel by the river to light industrial, Brady Trucking would bring in a slew of $70,000/year jobs, and build trails and landscaping by the river. Voters passed the measure, but today, two years later, the site remains dilapidated, no jobs were ever created and no trails were ever built.

Moreover, neither the chamber nor private businesses have proven reliable proponents on issues. The chamber has gone to bat for private businesses at election time before, only to be outed as lying.

Remember Referred Measure A in the April, 2013 election? It asked voters to uphold light industrial zoning by the Colorado River so Brady Trucking, a private business, could expand its operations there. The chamber promised voters that if they passed the measure, Brady Trucking would bring a slew of new jobs to town averaging $70,000 a year and build a walking and biking trail on a 50-foot wide easement along the river, as well as fencing and landscaping. Chamber President Diane Schwenke said, “This is an issue where the voters can support good jobs and development of trails.”

Oh, really?

Voters listened to the chamber and duly passed the measure, and now, two years later, the site is still untouched. No trails were ever built, and no additional jobs ever brought to the area.

The vaunted chamber, the “voice of business,” spoke and told voters the best thing to do, and it was a lie.

The arrest of Chamber-backed city council candidate Rick Brainard in April, 2013 shocked Grand Junction citizens and embarrassed the entire City.

The arrest of Chamber-backed city council candidate Rick Brainard in April, 2013, for beating up his girlfriend, shocked Grand Junction citizens and embarrassed the entire City.

Remember the infamous 2013 chamber-backed city council candidate, Rick Brainard, and what a debacle he was to the City? Brainard got arrested four days after being elected and appeared on TV news broadcasts in a yellow jumpsuit. He later pled guilty to assault.

After these kinds of terrible candidate endorsements and lies, should voters really listen to the chamber any more about which candidates and issues to back in local elections?

Of course not.

The better idea is to listen to the chamber so you can do the opposite of what they recommend.

There are plenty of good and important people in Grand Junction besides business and private property owners, yet in every election cycle, council candidates ignore them. What about retirees, students, disabled citizens, people who work for salaries like nonprofit workers, retail workers, landscape workers, day care workers, restaurant workers, teachers, government employees and volunteers, to name a few?

Don’t these people matter to candidates and elected officials, once they get into office? Why are none of these groups considered viable constituencies worth pursuing at election time and serving once in office?

Arguably, these citizens are the real lifeblood of our area. Not only do they provide important local services, but they earn the money that gets spent at local businesses. Without these people as customers, local businesses would die. But who fights for THEIR best interests?

No one, so far.

ManBalloonIt’s way beyond time for council candidates to acknowledge that there are many voters in town with needs besides private property owners, business owners and people who want more belt-tightening by City Council. There are plenty of business-friendly tightwads on Council already. What we need at long last are candidates who care about average, hard-working Grand Junction residents, many of whom live on the edge, have difficulty feeding their kids, making ends meet and affording medical and dental care. We need council candidates who will vow to support these people’s interests and needs if elected to Council.

Now THAT would be one giant breath of fresh air.

G.J. Energy Expo Keynote Speaker is a Tea Party “Clown Act”

 

John L. Casey, who will be a featured speaker at this year's G.J. Energy Expo, gives a talk titled "Man Made Global Warming: The Biggest Scientific Fraud in History" to a tea party group in Florida

John L. Casey, a featured speaker at this year’s G.J. Energy Expo, gives a talk titled “Man Made Global Warming: The Biggest Scientific Fraud in History” to a tea party group in Florida

Club 20 is outing itself as a tea party group, and in so doing joins the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce in shedding any pretense of being politically even-handed. Unfortunately, it looks like the same can now also be said for Colorado Mountain College, Colorado Mesa University and the other hosts and sponsors of the Club 20 Energy Expo and Forum.

Club 20’s annual Energy Expo and Forum is scheduled to be held at Grand Junction’s Two Rivers Convention Center February 27, and the keynote speaker at this year’s event is raising lots of eyebrows.

He is global warming conspiracy theorist John L. Casey.

The Energy Expo is dominated by extractive energy pursuits, like drilling and fracking, but that is nothing new. It is hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce (already a well-established arm of the local tea party), Club 20, Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College and the John McConnell Math and Science Center.

Given the respect for education and level of intelligence the public expects of at least some of the above sponsors (CMC, CMU and the Math and Science Center), members of the public are left scratching their heads about how such a nutty keynote speaker got selected this year.

Chamber Supports Amendment 68, Takes Mesa County Down Another Primrose Path

Dunce capThe Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce apparently loves some vices, but not others, and the “sins” the chamber backs don’t seem to match the desires of Mesa County citizens. Once again the chamber adds to its long list of disastrous political moves and fails to consider the big picture in their election-year endorsements.

The chamber recently announced it supports Amendment 68, which will pave the way for horse racing and large-scale video lottery terminals in Mesa County. Amendment 68 requires 34 percent of the gambling proceeds go to support schools.

Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said whether or not the local community wants gambling was the most important criteria for their support.

“As long as it’s up to the local residents, the local leadership,” she said. “That’s of paramount importance to us.”

But the chamber doesn’t really care about what the local residents think.

Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce Violates Own “Buy Local” Advice — Again!

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke (Photo Credit: YouTube)

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce once again dealt a hard slap to local businesses by hiring an out-of-state web developer to create its new “Save Local Now” web page and mobil app.

As quickly as the chamber debuted its new “save local” program, the Daily Sentinel revealed it had hired an Ohio-based firm to create it.

Such web development expertise is available in Grand Junction. Thin Air Web at the corner of First Street and North Avenue is one local company that offers such services, but the chamber chose not to patronize this or any other local web development business for this need.

Local-Washing

The Grand Junction Chamber regularly rolls out programs nominally aimed at supporting local businesses, like it’s “Blue Band Buy Local” program, while actually taking much of its own business out of town. This practice is known as “local-washing,” or trying to look concerned about local businesses without actually supporting local business.

Local-washing is akin to “greenwashing,” in which the chamber claims to be environmentally conscious while backing environmentally devastating pursuits unpopular with many businesses, like fracking and oil shale mining. The chamber also “job-washes,” or claims to support efforts to create jobs locally, while working to undermine innovative new economic pursuits that are already generating significant economic activity and good-paying jobs in other parts of the state.

Where are the Jobs? Where are the Trails? Brady Trucking Site Sits Untouched

BradySite

The Brady Trucking site by the Colorado River more than a year after citizens voted to re-zone the site. Proponents promised the re-zone would create high-paying jobs and a landscaped extension of the Colorado riverfront trail. 

 

“Vote for Jobs and Trails!”

That was how local pro-business interests promoted passage of Referred Measure A on the April, 2013 City ballot, which asked voters to uphold light industrial zoning by the Colorado River and the proposed Las Colonias Park site, so a private company, Brady Trucking, could expand its operations.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, it’s deep-pocketed lobbying arm, the Western Colorado Business Alliance and the West Slope Oil and Gas Association all championed the re-zoning measure.

Chamber President Diane Schwenke, CEO said, “This is an issue where the voters can support good jobs and development of trails.” Schwenke promised that if the measure passed, the new jobs Brady would provide would average $70,000 per year.

“What would we as a community be willing to give up to attract this kind of business and job opportunity? And yet here we have a private company that is willing and eager to provide the opportunity and actually enhance the riverfront’s recreational opportunities at the same time,” Schwenke crowed.

If the measure passed, voters were told, Brady Trucking would build a walking and biking trail within on a 50-foot wide easement along the river, as well as fencing and landscaping. Proponents boasted Brady’s expansion would attract even more businesses and jobs to the area.

Voters passed the measure.

One year later the site is completely untouched.

No jobs, no trails, no landscaping, no nothing.

Schwenke suckered us again.

So much for the promises of a Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Update – as of January 15, 2015, the site looks exactly the same.

 

Citizens Picket Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce

Grand Junction citizens protested in front of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning. The group, Rein in The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, represents citizens who are angry about the Chamber’s controlling involvement in City politics. In 2012 the G.J. Chamber, under its president, Diane Schwenke, seized control of council after it formed a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that raked in donations from deep-pocketed business owners and spent historically huge amounts of money to get Chamber-selected candidates elected to city council.  Prior to the Chamber’s direct involvement in local politics, no city council candidate had ever spent more than about $3,400 on an election. This year, Chamber-backed candidates spent an average of $11,000 each. A recent feature article in the local paper, the Daily Sentinel, revealed that the G.J. Chamber is spending huge amounts on lobbying compared to similarly-sized chambers around the state, and that at $133,930, G.J. Chamber President Schwenke’s compensation package far exceeds the compensation her peers earn at similar-sized chambers around the state.

Photo credit: Christopher Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Photo credit: Christopher Tomlinson/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Sentinel Exposes G.J. Chamber of Commerce’s Hubris

Chart from the Daily Sentinel showing GJ Chamber President Diane Schwenke's compensation far outstrips the compensation earned by other comparable chamber presidents around the region

Chart from the Daily Sentinel showing GJ Chamber President Diane Schwenke’s compensation far outstrips the compensation earned by comparable chamber presidents around the region. The same goes for the G.J. Chamber’s lobbying expense.

The Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel on July 21 published a scathing expose’ of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s recent activities that have citizens in an uproar.  The Chamber, once seen locally as a respected and helpful institution, in recent years has started engaging in hard-core political activity, and spending plenty on it. In 2011, the G.J. Chamber spent a whopping $74,000 of members’ money on lobbying expense. The next closest comparable Colorado Chamber of Commerce that spent anything at all on lobbying was the Montrose Chamber, which spent just $2,000. The Sentinel also revealed that G.J. Chamber president Diane Schwenke’s compensation far exceeds that of her counterparts at comparable Colorado chambers. In 2011, Schwenke made $133,930 in salary and benefits. Her next closest counterpart made just $112,477. Most of the other presidents of comparable chambers made well under $100,000/year in combined salary and benefits. The G.J. Chamber’s headlong dive into hyper-political activity has led to a backlash among citizens, who have started boycotting Chamber-member businesses. In many citizens’ eyes, the G.J. Chamber stepped out of bounds after it formed a secretive political group, the Western Colorado Business Alliance, that takes in unlimited money and spends unlimited funds to get Chamber-backed candidates elected to local office. The Chamber did exactly that in the last City-wide election, only to have one of their winning candidates, Rick Brainard, get thrown in jail four days after the election for beating up a woman. Brainard pled guilty to assault on May 17.  Throughout his legal travails, Brainard has refused pressure from citizens to resign from Council, and will soon cost City taxpayers $50,000 for a recall effort. Making matters worse, the Chamber continues to back Brainard, making Grand Junction the first city in Colorado to allow a freshly-convicted criminal sit on its Council. Former G.J. Chamber member Harry Griff of the law firm Griff, Larson Laiche & Wright, told the Sentinel he quit the Chamber after being a member for 25 years, calling it “a very, very exclusionary group.” Another business owner, Marilyn Charlesworth, also quit the Chamber over it’s unwelcome political activity, calling it a “little boy’s club.” Other businesses to quit include the CandyTime Shoppe, Pablo’s Pizza and the Hot Tomato in Fruita. New businesses in town are also opting not to join the Chamber due to the firestorm of controversy surrounding the organization. Citizens who are outraged at Chamber activities are boycotting Chamber-member businesses and using Facebook to organize, share strategies and share names of businesses that belong to the Chamber and those that do not, or to name who recently dropped their membership. For its part, the Chamber’s leadership remains completely unapologetic. In response to a question Sentinel reporter Charles Ashby posed about whether the local backlash is having any impact on the Chamber’s decision to get more political in the future, Chamber president Diane Schwenke responded that yes, it’s had an impact, but only to the extent that it will make the Chamber try to become even more effective at its political involvement in the future.

Source: Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, Politics and Business, by Charles Ashby, July 21, 2013 (NOT behind a paywall!)

The End of The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce?

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Op-ed

The Rick Brainard debacle — the ongoing saga of the newly-elected Grand Junction city councilman who pled guilty to criminal assault minutes before being sworn in as a City Councilman May 6  — has led to greater scrutiny of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the group responsible for foisting Brainard onto the local political scene.

In the decades before Brainard, to the people who even noticed it at all, the Grand Junction Chamber was generally regarded as a well-meaning force in town. Becoming a member of the Chamber was a rite of passage and a feel-good move for businesses, and a way to show support for the community. The Chamber, a long-standing organization incorporated in Grand Junction way back in 1915, typically engaged in helpful and uncontroversial activities like recruiting volunteers to help tutor elementary school kids in reading and promoting its “Blue Band Buy Local” program aimed at keeping local dollars in the area. The Chamber weighed in on policy matters like taxes and fees, but it’s influence wasn’t out-sized. Its political activity stayed in check in part because its 501-c-6 IRS designation limits the amount of lobbying it can engage in. Because it was a relatively helpful, low-key organization, it had few enemies.

All that changed in 2012, when the Chamber  stopped being satisfied to simply weigh in on policy issues like every other nonprofit group in town. Suddenly the Chamber started acting like the sober person in the car who needed to seize the wheel from a drunk. The Chamber decided it needed to force its will upon citizens by actually becoming City Council. In 2012, the Grand Junction Chamber turned ruthlessly competitive, devised a winner-take-all strategy, then stacked the deck to make sure it got what it wanted: total control of City politics.

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce Clams Up, Hunkers Down in Political Storm

Op-ed

Grand Junction Area Chamber President Diane Schwenke (Photo Credit: YouTube)

Embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber President Diane Schwenke (Photo Credit: YouTube)

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is up to its ears in alligators, and its best proactive strategy is to hope all its self-caused problems will just go away.

Just four days after the April 6 city election, Rick Brainard, one of the Chamber-backed candidates for City Council who won, was arrested for hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face hard enough to give her a black eye. In his official arrest affidavit, Brainard told police he hit her because she “needed to shut her mouth,” a comment that inflamed local citizens and galvanized public opinion against Brainard. The Daily Sentinel withdrew its endorsement of Mr. Brainard and published an op-ed recommending he vacate his Council seat. Community Hospital pushed Mr. Brainard off its board and West Star Aviation fired him from his executive job as Vice President of Business Development. Thousands of people signed an online petition titled “Woman Beating Councilmember Must Go” and citizens angrily picketed the Chamber of Commerce over its tenacious support of Mr. Brainard. When the Sentinel asked the Chamber if, despite his arrest, the organization still supported Mr. Brainard’s presence on Council, Chamber President Diane Schwenke refused to answer reporters’ calls. Instead, in true Sarah Palin style, she issued a response through the Chamber’s Facebook page:

“Mr. Brainard is entitled to due process. It sends an equally wrong message to our children to condemn without benefit of going through a process where we assume innocence until found guilty by the courts. Once that process has happened we will again review our position on Mr. Brainard.”

On May 17 Brainard pled guilty to the assault in Mesa County Court. So does the Chamber still think it is appropriate for Brainard to remain on Council?

Saga Drags On as Brainard Assumes Seat on Council

Two views of citizens  turning their backs on Brainard at his swearing in ceremony May 6, 2013.

Two views of citizens turning their backs on Brainard at his swearing in ceremony May 6, 2013. Ruth Ehlers is seen in the hot pink jacket in the top photo. (Photo Credit: Demand Rick Brainard Resign Grand Junction Facebook page)

Rick Brainard was elevated to Grand Junction City Council this week amid an unprecedented citizen protest at his swearing in ceremony. As City Clerk Stephanie Tuin read Mr. Brainard his oath of office, 60 percent of the audience stood and turned their backs on him in silent protest — a remarkable showing for a municipal ceremony on a weekday morning in this small, conservative town. Brainard claimed to the media that he was unaware of the protest, but was sweating after the ceremony. In response to a question about the protest from a KKCO Channel 11 news reporter, Brainard responded “You know, it is what it is …My supporters have been steadfast, and I’m grateful for that.” An unidentified Brainard supporter was overheard saying, “All they did was turn their backs. They have a right to do that. I thought they were very civil. Not nearly as obnoxious as I thought they were going to be.”

Brainard Episode Exposes Chamber Plot to Seize Political Control of Grand Junction

Grand Junction citizens protest in front of the Chamber of Commerce. The blue sign says "GJ Chamber endorses violence."

Grand Junction citizens protest outside the Chamber of Commerce. The blue sign says “GJ Chamber endorses violence.”

Rick Brainard’s election to the Grand Junction City Council and subsequent arrest for assault and harassment have appalled and galvanized City residents, but it’s also raised awareness of a sea change happening in Grand Junction politics right now that would otherwise have gone little-noticed. City Councilman Tom Kenyon alluded to it when he told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel the day after the election that “This election was very different” from others. “It was very organized,” Kenyon said, “It felt like they were out to get you. They raised a lot of money.”

Kenyon was right. This election was very different from previous local elections. That’s because, thanks to the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, a new group has appeared in town that has vowed to take a “proactive role” in setting local public policy. Translation? That group has vowed to take control of the City of Grand Junction. That group is the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce’s newly-created 501(c)4 political arm, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), which exerted its muscle in the last election to seize control of Grand Junction’s City Council.