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Money for chamber

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Posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

The Oro Valley Town Council is sending a message to the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce. It’s something like this: If you want the people’s money, then don’t tell the people who to vote for.

The council, apparently upset by the endorsement of a council candidate by the chamber’s political action committee, is cutting the chamber’s recommended community funding from $27,500 to … zero.

“I think it’s wrong to use government money to fund a group’s political activities,” Councilman Barry Gillaspie said.

“They went beyond what the chamber should be doing,” Councilman K.C. Carter said last week. “They got into the political arena, and that’s a very foolish mistake on their part.”

A foolish mistake? Only in the sense that Carter perceives a bite to the hand — government — that feeds.

Ramon Gaanderse, the chamber’s new president and chief executive, points out the chamber’s political action money comes from a separate bucket than its operational funds, and that the public’s money is not used for political purposes.

Still, the council may think the town’s money is being used for persuasive speech.

As he finds his way, Gaanderse has emphasized the importance of chamber advocacy on subjects that affect business. The business community needs to communicate its views and positions on issues of public concern, and the chamber provides the perfect outlet for such speech. We’ll expect the chamber, through its political action committee, to express positions on subjects like the annexation of Arroyo Grande, the Naranja Townsite park bond election, the state lands trust reform ballot initiative, and more. That’s what chambers do.

The difference may be whether the chamber and its PAC endorse specific candidates for public office. There’s nothing wrong with doing so. But it can come back to bite, particularly when the candidate of choice is defeated.

The Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce provides necessary visitor and information services to the Oro Valley community. Its funding from town government should be restored.

In December, the Oro Valley Town Council voted unanimously to deny a liquor license renewal for Torino Ristorante. The council acted upon the advice of town police, who said owner Ollie Shouse had submitted an incomplete renewal application. He had excluded past run-ins with the law, Chief Danny Sharp said.

Shouse claimed a police vendetta. At least one town council member wondered why the renewal should be rejected.

“I don’t see how they can deny me a license,” Shouse told The Explorer a that time. “I have one misdemeanor conviction.”

Shouse said the loss of liquor license would doom his business. In fact, some time after Shouse’s appeal of the denial was rejected at the state level, the La Canada establishment was closed.

Fast forward to June 12, when Shouse and five others were arrested in connection with a marijuana trafficking operation that allegedly has shipped as much as 25 tons of pot to the East Coast since 2001. Shouse, facing federal drug charges, has posted a $10,000 bond, and has been released into a substance abuse treatment facility.

Last October, federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers intercepted $398,375 in cash that was headed to Shouse. There’s no doubt Sharp and others in Oro Valley government knew about the drug investigation. But they couldn’t say much about it, and they found a way to halt Shouse’s application without harming the greater drug probe.

As it turns out, denial of the Torino liquor license was the right thing to do. Shouse appears to have been much less than honest, and his attempt to engender public support for the liquor license now looks very selfish and manipulative.

May his substance abuse treatment go well, and may those affected by his decisions and choices move ahead with healthy lives.

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