SAN BENITO — Does the Chamber of Commerce help local businesses the way it should?
Mayor Ben Gomez isn’t so sure about that.
Earlier this week, Gomez claimed the chamber doesn’t help local businesses that don’t pay membership dues.
So he proposed city commissioners consider giving the chamber its annual $10,000 in membership dues as part of a probationary period in which the city would check to see if the agency is helping local businesses.
But chamber President Toni Crane strongly denied the charge.
“Not all businesses are offered grand openings,” Gomez told Crane during a meeting Tuesday. “We feel it’s important every business get a chance at exposure. Not all are able to pay the membership when they start off. We personally have been contacted by some businesses and know this is true.”
Gomez said the city, struggling with tight finances and slow business growth, was carefully determining its spending.
“This is our biggest weakness — business — and we need to make sure every dollar we use is used to its full potential and helping the city grow,” Gomez said.
Yesterday, chamber officials said they would continue to help all local businesses succeed, adding Gomez’s claims were based on “misinformation.”
“The chamber will continue to work closely with the city of San Benito and continue our core purpose which is to foster, enable and facilitate the success of San Benito businesses so our community is financially healthy and all the people living, working and playing in San Benito can enjoy a high quality of life,” chamber officials stated.
During his five-minute speech at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Gomez, reading from a prepared statement, also accused the chamber of pushing “your own political agenda.”
“From over-involvement in politics to operations, we get constant questions,” Gomez said, apparently referring to some businesses’ concerns. “Having a city logo actually becomes problematic. It gives the impression that it is a city-run organization when we get negative feedback.”
After Gomez’s speech, Crane stood at the podium and said, “Wow, that threw us for a loop.”
“We’re not making this political one bit,” Crane said. “None of us are political.”
Crane said the chamber works to help all businesses in town.
“What the mayor read to us tonight — I don’t know where he got that from,” Crane said. “We do a lot of work. We do ribbon-cuttings and we do them free. We don’t charge them even if they’re not a member, we do grand openings. Our whole purpose is to promote the city, promote businesses in San Benito and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Gomez said he would consider the chamber’s request for $10,000.
“If we move forward as a probation-type of deal for this year, we have to see what’s going on,” Gomez told Crane. “You all need to be more open so we can see how you guys are working.”
For the second time this month, commissioners decided to postpone action on the chamber’s request.
Commissioner Rene Villafranco said he wanted Commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez, who was absent Tuesday, to be part of the decision.
“I feel everybody should be here to make this decision,” Villafranco said.