Split Anaheim Council Approves New Chamber Contract

In a split vote, the Anaheim City Council Tuesday night approved a $167,000 contract with the Chamber of Commerce for city sponsorship of major events and promoting of city programs aimed at businesses.

The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman Jim Vanderbilt voting no; and members of the Chamber-backed council majority – including Kris Murray, Jordan Brandman and Lucille Kring -- voting for the contract.

Tait was by far the most vocal council member during discussion of the issue, arguing that the Chamber shouldn’t be relying on government subsidies to stay afloat and that the business group needs to be “weaned” off of taxpayer funds. He added that the city is paying more for some events than in past years.

“We’re actually going the other way, we’re giving more,” Tait said.

Tait’s vocal opposition could be seen as his latest swipe at the city's business establishment after a contentious election season in which the Chamber and its political arm financed attack ads against Tait, alleging the mayor wanted to demolish Angel Stadium and to spend taxpayer money on a gang memorial.

In December, the mayor announced that the Chamber would no longer be hosting his annual state of the city address -- which the business group has historically used as a fundraiser -- with the city instead partnering with a nonprofit to raise money for services targeting at-risk youth.

Members of the council majority mostly didn’t directly engage Tait on the issue. Instead, the mayor had a back-and-forth with Deputy City Manager Kristine Ridge over whether the city is paying more for sponsorships than in the past and quizzing her about the details of the contract.

“We’re receiving in return significant advertising and marketing ability,” Ridge said.

Past Chamber contracts have generated controversy. In 2013, a city-commissioned audit found the Chamber’s accounting was inadequate, meaning auditors couldn’t determine if the Chamber spent revenue from the city on political activity.

That finding was particularly relevant at the time because the Chamber had paid consulting fees to blogger Matt Cunningham, a Republican insider with ties to the council majority. Cunningham had posted a photo of a defaced teddy bear next to a Virgin de Guadalupe votive candle, clearly mimicking memorial sites to young Latinos killed in police shootings and sparking outrage among Latinos.

In 2007, an audit found that the Chamber was facing “serious solvency concerns.”

Ridge said the latest contract elaborates more on the kinds of political activities the Chamber is prohibited from doing using city revenue.

According to contract documents, the city will be sponsoring five major events, including: the annual Economic Development Conference; Taste of Anaheim; Anaheim/OC Job Fair; Business Awards Luncheon; and Business Links Golf Tournament. The sponsorships will total $142,000.

The city will have to advance half the funds by the last business day in February, according to the contract.

In return for the sponsorships, the chamber will give the city tickets for the events, expo booths to market city programs, advertisements in the events’ program materials and prominent display of the city logo.

Also, the city will be paying an additional $25,000 for the chamber to market city programs on the web and in publications like the bi-monthly Business Advocate and This Week in Anaheim.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.