San Benito gives Chamber $10,000 membership fee

SAN BENITO — After weeks of sometimes heated questions and accusations, the city remains a Chamber gold member.

Earlier this week, city commissioners unanimously voted to pay the San Benito Chamber of Commerce $10,000 in annual membership dues.

But that didn’t happen before Chamber Chairwoman Toni Crane outlined the agency’s functions during a special city commission meeting Monday.

The presentation came about a week after Mayor Ben Gomez began questioning whether the Chamber helped local businesses that did not pay membership fees.

“This is not about arguing or saying what’s right or what’s wrong but we do have questions — to me they’re legitimate questions,” Gomez told Crane and Executive Director Anna Putegnat Garcia.

During the meeting, Gomez said the Chamber “denied” ribbon-cuttings to two non-member businesses.

In response to Gomez’s questions, Crane said the Chamber holds ribbon cuttings and other functions for all local businesses, including non-members.

“The Chamber’s sole purpose is to assist the city in working to make San Benito a better place to live and work, to promote the businesses in town and bring people into town to spend their money at our local businesses,” Crane told commissioners.

Ribbon-cuttings done

During a PowerPoint presentation, Putegnat Garcia said the Chamber held ribbon-cuttings for 13 members and 10 non-members between May 2018 and this month.

“Some businesses are unable to pay their fair share but no potential members are turned away,” Crane said.

In response, Putegnat Garcia, the Chamber’s only paid employee who took over April 24, 2018, said she was new on the job when one of the non-member businesses asked for a ribbon-cutting.

Meanwhile, she said she was unaware of the second business that asked for a ribbon cutting.

Phone messages

Gomez also told Crane and Putegnat Garcia the Chamber failed to respond to two of his telephone message.

In response, Crane apologized for failing to respond to Gomez’s messages.

“I don’t hold any grudges,” Gomez said. “I take the good with the bad.”

Open for business

Gomez also said the Chamber’s office was closed when he stopped by at about 10:30 a.m. — a half-hour after it is supposed to open Mondays through Fridays.

In response, Putegnat Garcia said she posts a sign which includes her cell phone number on the door when the office is closed.

Meanwhile, Crane said the sign also asks visitors to meet her next door at her husband’s law office.

“The Chamber and its directors are dedicated business owners who want nothing but to have San Benito grow and prosper,” Crane told commissioners. “We envision a dynamic community in which existing businesses flourish and our vision is to attract new businesses to a place where people will want to raise their families.”

Membership fee

The city has a history of paying the Chamber’s membership fees.

In 2015, after the Chamber reopened following months of inactivity, the city paid the Chamber $25,000.

A year later, the city paid $15,000 in membership fees.

In 2017 and 2018, each year the city paid $10,000 in fees.

“The Chamber understands that San Benito has a tight budget,” Crane said. “It is also understood that the city leaders have an obligation to its citizens to spend and invest their tax dollars wisely. It is believed that a membership in the San Benito Chamber would be a wise and justified investment for the city.”