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Richmond Council Drops Chamber Membership

By Judith Scherr
Friday November 17, 2006

The Richmond City Council voted Nov. 14 to drop its membership in the Richmond Chamber of Commerce “to avoid potential civil or criminal penalties for using public resources to pay for memberships in organizations that participate in local political activities,” according to an e-mail from Richmond City Council-member Tom Butt. 

A letter to Richmond City Attorney John Eastman from consulting attorney Jayne Wil-liams of Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, cites the case of Stanson v. Mott, from which she concludes that “such a membership paid for from the city’s treasury would undermine established jurisprudence and public policy that the public’s time, money or other resources may not be used to promote or oppose ballot measures or for other political campaign purposes….” 

Williams further cites Califor-nia state government code Sec-tion 54964(a) which says: “An officer, employee, or consultant of a local agency may not expend or authorize the expenditure of any of the funds of the local agency, to support or oppose the approval or rejection of a ballot measure or the election or defeat of a candidate, by the voters.” 

In Berkeley, the City Manager’s Office pays $245 membership dues annually to the Berkeley chamber as does the Fire Depart-ment, according to budget manager Tracy Vesely. (The Police Department is listed as a Cham-ber member, but payment of dues has not been verified.) 

This year the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce endorsed candidates for mayor and City Council and for and against ballot measures, as it has in previous elections.  

The Daily Planet asked Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick, who is secretary to the Fair Political Campaign Practices Commission, whether Berkeley could be similarly in violation in belonging to an organization that supports and opposes political candidates and measures. Van Herick, however, said that since the question does not fall within the purview of Berkeley’s local election law, she is unable to respond. 

Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz did not return calls before deadline.