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Residents Ask Mill Valley City Council to Investigate Actions by the MV Chamber of Commerce Board

The following letter was sent to the Mill Valley City Council on August 17, 2012 requesting full public disclosure regarding recent actions by Board Members at the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The following letter was sent to the Mill Valley City Council on August 17, 2012 requesting full public disclosure regarding recent actions by Board Members at the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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Dear City Council:

On August 14th Mayor Garry Lion issued a public statement on (copy of Mayor Lion’s statement is pasted below) regarding the appearance of his signature on the letter that the members of the Board of Directors of the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce presented to the city Planning Commission (letter dated April 12, 2012 - copy attached). That letter contained a number of specific zoning code recommendations that the Chamber asked the Planning Commission to adopt.

We greatly appreciate Mayor Lion’s clarification and have no doubt of its veracity. However, his statement now brings into question bigger issues. Certainly, everyone knows that it’s wrong to sign someone’s name to a letter without getting their permission, particularly when that signature is potentially the most influential signature on the letter. That understood, why then did the Chamber Board submit their letter that included Mayor Lion’s name if he was not consulted?

Suzanne Burrows, Vice Chair of Operations of the Chamber Board, has brushed this off as being “.” But it seems inconceivable that the Board members who created this letter did not know Mayor Lion’s name would add significant weight to their arguments, or that it was unethical to use his name without his permission.

This action by Chamber Board members is actually a very serious matter and should not be brushed off as a mistake.  At the least the Chamber Board’s actions were unprofessional, if not unethical. At the worst they may be in violation of governing rules of conduct and ethics under California state law.

The Chamber enjoys special privileges, city support and city services, and has taken taxpayer money, and as such should be held to the highest possible standards of conduct. To falsely use a government official’s name in an attempt to influence public officials and government regulations that might have a direct financial impact on property that is owned by the individuals making that attempt, and to whom might accrue personal financial gain by its outcome, might be considered fraudulent.

But there is an even greater issue that is raised by the Chamber’s letter.  And that is that using a registered nonprofit organization to lobby for regulatory changes that might provide personal benefit to its Board Members (i.e. benefiting from higher rents as property owners in downtown Mill Valley) runs directly contrary to state prohibitions against private enurement (i.e. personal financial gain) and can be grounds for revocation of the Chamber’s nonprofit status by the State Attorney General’s Office of Charitable Trusts. In fact breach of private enurement restrictions is the most common reason for the loss of nonprofit status.

The public deserves to know exactly what transpired and who was responsible for using Mayor Lion’s name on a document he knew nothing about. The public needs to know if there are any other Chamber Board members whose names appeared on that document without their knowledge or consent.

We are therefore writing to make a request that the City open an inquiry into this matter, as to the facts and circumstances that led to the creation of the Chamber Board’s letter, including identifying who was responsible for its creation and the inclusion of Mayor Lion’s name, so that the public can know the truth of the matter and so that the public trust is ensured, and in order to determine if any additional action is warranted.

We, as residents and taxpayers of the City of Mill Valley, send this letter in the hopes that the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce can make whatever changes are necessary to once again become the valuable public benefit organization that they have the history of being.

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Mayor Lion’s Statement:

“I want to emphasize the fact that I took no part in developing the Chamber's position on zoning in their April letter. I did not even see that letter until August 3rd, after which I immediately emailed the Chamber President, Vice President and Executive Director to tell them to NEVER use my name on any correspondence advocating a position on a City issue. I cannot even discuss a potential City Council issue with interested parties, let alone advocate a position until hearing all the evidence in a public hearing. That would be a conflict of interest and/or Council policy, which I have never done. You should also be aware that as the City's liaison to the Chamber, I am only an ex-officio member of the Board who cannot make motions or vote on any Chamber decision.”

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Respectfully,

Bob Silvestri

David LaDuke

Susan Kirsch

Philip Novak

Richard DiMaio

Mitch Wortzman

Liz Williamson

 

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