The G.J. Chamber and its representatives bully, denigrate, intimidate and show bias toward and against citizens, many of whom are also local business owners.
I had a customer, a college student who interned there [at the G.J. Chamber] and she was a woman of color — she saw the racism clearly but wasn’t targeted because she was well liked, competent and stayed to learn. Some people really don’t realize how their bias is so pernicious in a community.
— Quote from a local business owner (name withheld)
G.J. Chamber Bullies Operators of Protest Website
September 19, 2013 – The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce hired a Denver law firm, not even a local Grand Junction law firm, to write a threatening letter (pdf) to the operators of the GJChamber.info website, which was launched on August 20, 2013 to highlight the Chamber’s over-involvement in local politics and other behaviors citizens find equally unsettling. The letter was sent by super-duper fast overnight FedEx. Attorney Sabrina C. Stavish of the Denver law firm Sheridan Ross, P.C., in a September 16, 2013 letter to GJChamber.info’s webmaster, said “The Chamber respects your First Amendment right to air your grievances in a public forum. However, we believe that the website, www.gjchamber.info, is misleading and confusing to consumers….[Y]our use of the identical name “gjchamber” in your domain name with no additional wording, and the header “THE GRAND JUNCTION AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE” appearing on www.gjchamber.info is misleading and confusing to consumers and is actionable unfair competition under 15 U.S.C.§1125.”
The section of the U.S. Commerce and Trade Code Stavish cited is titled “False designations or origin, false descriptions and dilution forbidden.” It addresses problems like false and misleading promotions, and misuse and abuse of trademarks and service marks for unfair market competition. The law also clearly states however that “any noncommercial use of a mark” is “not actionable.” Commentary and criticism are similarly excluded from coverage under the law Stavish cited. GJChamber.info is a noncommercial protest site. It is not used for pecuniary gain, and is used strictly for commentary and criticism on matters regarding the Chamber, and thus it is protected under the law — something the Denver attorney should have known. This site is also protected speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If someone initially is confused when arriving at the GJChamber.info, once they read it they will quickly recognize that it is a critique of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and does not promote the chamber in any way.
Anne Landman, webmaster of the protest site, said Stavish’s letter “shows how desperate the Chamber is over public critique of its behavior, and provides even more evidence showing that the Chamber bullies and attempts to intimidate any critics. They just can’t seem to see how these strong-arm tactics damage the Chamber’s reputation.”
Given that GJChamber.info supporters are on safe First Amendment ground with the protest site, GJChamber.info declined to act on Ms. Stavish’s requests, but to address the Chamber’s apparent concern that people might confuse this website with the Chamber’s own site, GJChamber.info added a note at the bottom of the home page stating that it is not the official website of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber’s legal threat was done purely try to intimidate its critics and make the information on this site harder to find.
Chamber President Diane Schwenke Posts Bigoted Joke on Facebook
May 5, 2013 – G.J. Chamber President Diane Schwenke posted a tasteless joke on her Facebook page that was targeted at a specific local minority group, several members of whom are local business owners. Despite the fact that she knew people were offended, Ms. Schwenke never apologized for the post. After 24 years as the chamber’s spokesperson, Ms. Schwenke is closely
identified with the Chamber. Her Facebook page identified her affiliation with the GJ chamber and her profile clearly stated that she was affiliated with the Grand Junction Chamber. Ms. Schwenke wrote that her offensive joke was “just too good not to share,” and it was, in fact, widely shared. Upon being notified of Ms. Schwenke’s publicly-posted “joke,” Chamber Board President Michael Burke did… nothing. Neither the Chamber Board nor Ms. Schwenke have apologized to business owners and citizens offended by her post, or reached out to the specific group she offended to make amends. This shows chamber officials believe that they will suffer no consequences for publicly attacking minority groups.
Chamber board member Michael Anton’s newspaper ad threatens single mom
Just before the April 2 Grand Junction city election in March, 2013, a quarter-page ad appeared in the Daily Sentinel berating incumbent City Council members who were running for re-election. The writer said the incumbents were big spenders and he demanded that City government be run like a business instead of a government. Until this time negative campaign ads had been nonexistent in Grand Junction’s local elections, and this one had a particularly angry edge to it. In particular, the author targeted City Councilor Laura Luke, a single mother, with threatening language: “Hey, Laura …” the writer said. “I’m your worst nightmare….” The ad berated Luke and demanded, “I want change! I want to see a person like Rick Brainard…” who “has a relentless passion and drive for the community he lives in….” get elected to council. The ad was so personally threatening to Luke that the Daily Sentinel yanked it before it’s three-print run was over. The author of the ad was Michael P. Anton, owner of Emtech, Inc., who, in addition to sitting on the Chamber’s Board of Directors, also happens to be President of the Chamber’s 501-c-4 lobbying group, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), created in 2012 specifically to influence local elections.
The Shocking Story of how the Chamber Treated its Long-Time Member, Former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts
By any measure, former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts is a stalwart of the community. A licensed private pilot and resident of Grand Junction for over 50 years, Pitts repeatedly turned down lucrative promotions offered by his former employer, a big security firm that sold safes, to stay in Grand Junction. His company offered him a position supervising sales over the entire west coast of the U.S., and Pitts turned it down. Later he turned down yet another big opportunity to manage sales over the entire U.S. midwest region from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. “This is the best place in the world to live,” Pitts says. “I’ve been in every state and over 21 countries, and there isn’t any place better than Grand Junction.” Married to the same woman for over 50 years and a true booster of the community, by his own calculation Mayor Pitts put 3.2 days per week into doing City business for the paltry sum of $700 a month, and he did every last duty his mayoral position called on him to do, no matter how small. “Anytime someone asked me to do something extra — give a graduation speech or whatever — I did it, no matter what,” Pitts says. Pitts is also a creative guy, having invented six different useful items that are currently on the international market. One is commonly used here in western Colorado: those plastic covers with magnetic edges that you put over swamp cooler vents inside the house in winter time to keep out the drafts. Pitts is also an accomplished businessman. He has started several local businesses from the ground up and sold them off. One is Security Alarm Company, which he sold to former City Councilor Bruce Hill. Pitts also started the campground and RV park at 22 and H Roads. As a realtor and developer, he started the Fountainhead subdivision at G at 25 Roads.
Pitts was an active, dedicated dues-paying member and booster of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for over 44 years. He helped start Dinosaur Days, was active in Chamber Rangers and other programs.
Bill Pitts is the quintessential, dyed-in-the-wool, patriotic, community-loving Republican Grand Junction resident. But at the May 1, 2013 City Council meeting he announced that after 44 years, he was withdrawing his membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. (pdf, at page 3)
Because instead of backing Pitts for a second term on Council, and without a word of explanation, the Chamber of Commerce selected Rick Brainard to run against him. No one at the Chamber ever bothered to pick up the phone to tell Pitts they were unhappy with anything he had done while in office before they started working to oust him. After selecting Brainard to run against Pitts, the Chamber used the Western Colorado Business Alliance, its new 501-c-4 lobbying arm, to pour historic amounts of money into Brainard’s campaign in order to push Pitts off Council. According to public records, Pitts spent about $2,300 on his campaign. Brainard spent over $11,000. Pitts believes that prominent Grand Junction businessman, Doug Simons, owner of Enstrom Candies, who sits on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Board, was the driving force behind the Chamber’s effort to oust him from Council. During his four years on Council, Pitts had represented the City on the Airport Board and had differences with both Simons and Rex Tippetts, the airport’s Director of Aviation, over issues like whether the Airport Board should take minutes of its meetings and construction of the massive, black security fence that now halfway surrounds the airport. Pitts recalls someone telling him they overheard Simons at a function saying “find someone to run against Bill Pitts.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. The Chamber found someone to run against Pitts: Rick Brainard. And their plan to oust Pitts worked. Pitts lost, and in his place, Grand Junction citizens got Rick Brainard sitting on City Council, an adjudicated criminal who, after assaulting his girlfriend badly enough to giver her a black eye, told police that he had to hit her because “she needed to shut her mouth.”
The Chamber’s extraordinarily poor assessment of Brainard’s appropriateness as a candidate, and its back-stabbing political attack on Bill Pitts — a highly dedicated, decades-long member of the Chamber and a perfectly qualified, experienced and dedicated city council candidate — helped citizens see clearly the danger that the Chamber’s unwelcome political involvement poses to the City.
Who supports the Grand Junction Chamber and its activities?
Here is a list of the Chamber’s Board of Directors, as of 9/24/2013 (pdf):
Michael P. Burke, Kain & Burke, PC, Chairman of the Board
Nina Anderson, Express Employment Professionals
Michael Anton, EmTech Inc.
Lisa Boyd, No Coast Sushi
Matthew Breman, Cranium 360
Janet Brink, Habitat For Humanity of Mesa County, Inc.
Grady Busse, Action Publishing Inc.
David Cesark, Mesa Energy Partners
Jeff Franklin – Bank of Colorado
Lu Ann Harrah, Harrahs – Hair – Skin and Nails
John Marshall, Colorado Mesa University
Greg Motz, Sun King Management
Jeff Nichols – STRIVE (Mesa Developmental Services)
Carol Skubic, Wells Fargo Bank
Lance Stewart, SGM
Chris Thomas, Community Hospital
Nathan Wallace, CommWest