LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Originally sent to: Calvert County Chamber of Commerce
I am writing you to voice my displeasure on recent Chamber decisions. At the May Chesapeake Hills Golf Business After Hours, members were surveyed the following question:
"The Chamber currently accepts paid advertising inserts for the newsletter from members at a member rate and from non-members at a higher rate. Question: Should the Chamber extend advertising opportunities to political campaign candidates on an equal opportunity basis? Yes __ or No.___"
This question was also sent out on the Chamber's e-mail broadcast on May 11th.
The Chamber membership was never notified of the results. I learned from Carolyn McHugh, the Chamber's CEO, that at the last Chamber board meeting, the board voted to allow political campaign advertising in the newsletter. This "vote result" has yet to be sent out via e-mail broadcast to inform the membership. I also inquired of Mrs. McHugh if the Chamber planned to send a notice to all registered candidates regarding this change. She informed me that the Chamber was not.
Regarding the Chamber of Commerce July 13th Business After Hours Mini-Expo; I see listed on the Chamber's website that "Citizens to Elect Bill Chambers" and "Calvert County Democratic Central Committee" have booths. These two entities are not businesses, they neither sell a product nor provide a service. "Citizens to Elect Bill Chambers" is not even a registered Chamber business or organization. Were the BAH mini-expo sponsors asked if they were ok with allowing political organizations to have booths? I am sure all are under the impression that this event was to support businesses in Calvert County. Maybe some of these sponsors have political views opposing of those political entities that have booths. Why would the Chamber place those sponsors in such a position as to have to possibly explain themselves? Who made the decision to allow this? Why are political organizations being allowed space at the mini-expo? Were other candidates asked if they would like a booth or just Bill Chambers and the Democratic Central Committee? What's next? Is the Chamber of Commerce planning on publicly endorsing certain candidates?
The Chamber of Commerce has a long history of staying out of politics, of being non-political, yet this year it has thrown out all "Common Sense."
Anyone looking at the recent changes can easily draw a simple conclusion based on these facts: Bill Chambers was Chairman of the board and most recently, in April of this year, Vice-Chairman. Chris Reynolds was Chairman of the board and currently serves on the Board and is also currently the Chairman of the Calvert County Democratic Central Committee. On a side note, under the Chamber's by-laws, isn't it prohibited that publicly elected political officers be allowed to serve on the Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors?
Conclusion: Maybe or maybe not, the Chamber of Commerce is supporting Bill Chambers for County Commissioner under the guise of allowing political campaign advertising and allowing political entities to have booths at the mini-expo. Since the Chamber is not going to give notice to other candidates I can only assume that Bill Chambers will be the only candidate to advertise in the next newsletter.
By allowing these things to happen the Chamber has effectively lost all credibility.
As a Chamber member I an appalled. As a candidate, I would never have thought to place the Chamber of Commerce in such a position as to erode any trust or respect that the business community or public placed in it.
From the tone of this letter and its' implications, I am sure you can now understand why it has always been the policy of the Chamber of Commerce to stay miles away from politics and any perception of favoritism.
I encourage you and the Board of Directors to revisit these decisions and reverse them before more harm comes to the reputation of the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce. Publicly admit the Chamber of Commerce made a mistake and let's move on to promoting the businesses, and business climate, of Calvert County.
Patrick E. Flaherty
Tidbits of Southern Maryland
Candidate, Calvert County Commissioner