When the Whatcom County Council voted in January to cut $29,000 of funding for the Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Ski to Sea ad campaign because the council didn’t like the chamber’s newfound political involvement, it opened a can of worms that has done harm to both sides of the argument.
Both the chamber and the the council have whacked their thumbs with their own hammers in this case, leading to an ugly situation that rubs some of the shine off both groups.
First, chamber president Ken Oplinger should never have allowed his name to be placed on political material from the Better Community Solutions political action group, an organization that sharply criticized and worked against the campaigns of a number of sitting councilpeople. Oplinger admitted as much before the council on Jan. 31, when the group revisited the topic, putting it on hold for two more weeks, and possibly allowing a solution to be reached.
Does the chamber need to be a voice in local politics for its membership? Absolutely. But strident, public rallying cries against certain members of office is a dangerous line to tread when the chamber also seeks public funding from these same officials after election day. Political missteps such as these can cost a group far more than Ski to Sea ad dollars.
Politics is an ugly business at times, and if the chamber is going to enter the arena, it can’t expect bygones to be bygones after election day.
That said, the County Council also needs to look past petty bickering and election-day alliances to see the big picture.
Ski to Sea is the single-biggest event in the county. It brings in millions of dollars of business to not just Bellingham, but to communities across the county, from snowline to sea level.
Withholding funding for Ski to Sea because you don’t like the politics of the Chamber is losing sight of the primary goal of the event: to bring business and valuable revenue into the area.
Our advice is simple, and common sense, for both sides of this melee.
The chamber should not be the standard-bearer at election time. Too much is at stake in its other endeavors, and its valuable service to the business community should not be lessened because of political wrangling. Push quietly behind the scenes in support of the agenda dictated by the board and membership, but also work with existing members more, whether they were supported by the chamber or not at election time. Councilman Dan McShane’s assertion that the chamber needs to do more than just show up when it needs money is well taken; a rapport clearly needs to be built here, on both sides.
The council needs to realize that the chamber is looking out for the betterment of its members, at election time and otherwise. Perhaps some effort by the council members in question to better understand the chamber’s goals for its members would lead to the finding of enough common ground to allow for a better relationship.
Either way, it’s time put away the hammers and figure out a way to get along — because much as both sides might wish otherwise, immediate change is not on the horizon.
by Rik Dalvit