Chamber gears up for activism in '03

Everyone who runs for office says they want to help the business community. But once elected, they turn their attentions elsewhere, business leaders say.

To keep the business community’s agenda visible, and to make sure members know what the city’s elected officials are doing, the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce says it will be active in 2003.

The group is organizing an effort to monitor city policy deliberations and communicate back to the business community.

“We will try to just be visible, attending council meetings and some committee meetings and, where appropriate, to make comments,” said Kevin Dwyer, executive director.

“We want to make our presence felt, and let them know that somebody from the business community is paying attention.”

The Chamber committee putting together the monitoring effort includes board president Fred Jaberi of Merrill Lynch; past president Sheri Watson of GB Properties and Day City Internet; and contractor and former city council member Jim Llewellyn.

Dwyer noted that Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and all three of the winning city council candidates in 2001 promised to support the business community.

And while they have done so in some respects – Dwyer cites specifically Deborah Vann’s work with the Kitsap Public Utility District, on its plan to bring high-capacity internet service to Bainbridge – he says the general tenor has not been pro-business.

“In some issues around development fees and shoreline policy, the city has not been getting great praise on how all that has played out,” Dwyer said.

He also cited the council’s decision not to endorse Referendum 51, the transportation-improvement package, after preliminary comments suggested that some members of the council opposed it.

“I was amazed that they couldn’t come up with a decision on R-51,” Dwyer said. “It seemed like a no-brainer to support legislation that would have aided the ferry system.”

A third sore spot is the Frontier Bank parking lot – now known in Chamber circles as the Frontier “S” curves – widely used to connect Hildebrand Lane and Ericksen Avenue.

“We received a communication from some people at Frontier Bank complaining that people can’t walk out to their cars safely,” he said. “Yet when we passed that on to the city, we got the distinct impression that this issue was not on their radar screen.

“They are looking right now at the ‘gateway’ area on Winslow Way, but this problem at the bank has been around for a long time.”

The Chamber wants to have at least one representative at all City Council meetings, Planning Commission meetings and council committee sessions, Dwyer said.

Dwyer said the Chamber board has not yet considered whether to take the next logical step of recruiting and endorsing candidates for city offices.

“There has been some talk about that, and it’s a step that a lot of chambers around the country have taken, but we have avoided that to date,” he said. “Our membership is diverse enough that it could be hard for us to agree.”

Dwyer concedes that increased Chamber activism is, in part, an attempt to counterbalance what is sometimes perceived as an over-emphasis on environmental values at the expense of business.

“We need to balance economic and environmental considerations, and try to find that fine line,” Dwyer said.

“We want to be advocates for good businesses that can be here without destroying the environment.”

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