Received an interesting email from a North Tonawanda reader. Seems like the chamber doesn't know that even a PERCEIVED conflict of interest actually is a conflict.
A minor brouhaha developed in North Tonawanda regarding debates for city council and county legislature candidates, to be hosted later this month by the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas. At issue is the fact that the current Chamber President, Dave Burgio, and a member of the chamber's government affairs committee, Dennis Pasiak, are both candidates and would be participants in the debate. The Tonawanda News ran an article about it over the weekend, and had quotes from current Council President Brett Sommer (who is not up for re-election this year) and others saying it raised a question a fairness.
The chamber's executive director, Joyce Santiago, explained in the article that it will be a fair process, and that none of the chamber members who are candidates are involved in setting up the debates, and will not have access to the questions in advance. End of story, right?
This is North Tonawanda, where there is always another page to turn. Apparently, Ms. Santiago wants to send a letter to the editor to the paper more fully explaining the chamber's position. In transmitting a draft to the board via e-mail, she writes, "Some of you may have seen the "Chamber to host debates" article in the Saturday, 10/6, issue of the Tonawanda News.
"Instead of a notice about the forum and the request for questions, it was reported that some took issue with the Chamber's involvement as we have a President and a Government Affairs Committee Member who are also candidates. A question of fairness to other candidates was raised.
"I've attached both the article and a letter to the editor of the Tonawanda News that I would like to have printed asap."
(btw, here's the article -- http://www.tonawanda-news.com/local/local_story_278232331.html)
So far, so good.
But then she writes, "Normally I wouldn't respond to fools but I do not want the public to get the wrong idea and I think it is important to point out to the readers that the Chamber does a service and that those who raised the question did so to make trouble, not actually add anything of value."
Her e-mail also says she chatted with NT GOP chair Bill Patton about the potential for conflict, and that he was satisfied. She says he even apologized for Brett Sommer's remarks. She also says that "Candidate Dennis Pasziak" also had no issue -- although she spelled his name incorrectly.
In a reply e-mail sent to the full board, Board Member Doug Taylor applauded the letter, saying, "The letter's current tone takes the high road, like that of a teacher responding to an unruly junior high school student in the 7-8th grade."
Her letter is innocuous enough, but does include the following sentence -- "It was irresponsible of them to do otherwise, given the importance of what we offer to the communities." -- in saying that the "parties who raised the question of impropriety" never contacted her directly.
Frankly, she is not wrong that is probably much ado about nothing. But to suggest that anyone who questions is a "fool" and "irresponsible" suggests that her p.r. meter must be broken. You have a former GOP mayor who is now the head of the chamber, yet claims he doesn't attend committee meetings. He is now running for city council, with the backing of the Democrats. He will be taking part in a debate administered by the very organization he chairs. C'mon, Joyce, somebody was going to raise a question about that. And, was it Sommer who raised the question, or the reporter at the Tonawanda News? And, Doug, an "unruly junior high student" is the way to describe someone who may not agree?
Calling people "fools" and "irresponsible" in e-mails to more than 20 business leaders in the area might also cause us regular folk to wonder just what is going on. Flogging the issue is no way to make it go away. And, Doug, an "unruly junior high student" is the way to describe someone who may not agree?
Is this the best and brightest the business community has to offer? As a member of the chamber, it certainly makes me wonder.