Friday, August 26, 2005

PLAN DENYING FUNDS TO CHAMBER FAILS

Plan denying funds to chamber fails
SUPERVISORS: Though two chambers would have gotten money, one that lost favor would not.
11:06 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 23, 2005
By KIMBERLY TRONE / The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County supervisors Tuesday refused to support colleague Jeff Stone's bid to reward a chamber of commerce he helped start and snub a chamber he opposes.

Stone, who represents southwest Riverside County, had requested $30,000 for the Menifee-Sun City Chamber of Commerce, which is headed by Julie Johnson, his former staff member. The new chamber opened in May.

He also sought $10,000 for the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce, but didn't offer money to the Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce, which has represented the area for 30 years. Stone abandoned his support for the Menifee Valley chamber in February, when it was considering a regional partnership with the Hemet/San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce. Stone opposed the plan, which has been put on hold.

Stone faced a storm of criticism from several Menifee Valley chamber members at Tuesday's meeting. They said it was unfair for him to funnel public money to a rival chamber he helped create.

"Mr. Stone, you threw us a curveball -- and I voted for you," said Chuck Cena, a member of the Menifee Valley chamber. "This is a very, very poor political move."

Stone's request for the chambers was part of a $141,500 spending package for 15 nonprofit organizations in the southwest Riverside County. The board approved the balance of Stone's funding requests.

The money comes from the county's Community Improvement Designation fund.
By offering support to the new chamber, Stone said he was attempting to bolster an organization that is positioned to bring jobs and economic development to the region. But Supervisor Bob Buster said he was "very sad" to see how Stone's actions had divided the Menifee Valley community.

"I would be using my office to bring these two groups together," Buster said.
Supervisor John Tavaglione said he agreed with Buster, and pointed out the special fund was intended to support communitywide activities, such as youth programs.
"Chambers are meant to get support from the business community," Tavaglione said.

Reach Kimberly Trone at (951) 368-9456 or ktrone@pe.com

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