GSI’s Puffy Talking Points
On October 23 Council President Ben Stuckart delivered a letter to Christine Johnson, PhD, President of Spokane Community Colleges and Chairwoman of Greater Spokane, Inc. In it, Stuckart calls for an “internal conversation starter” whereby he questions inherent conflicts that exist between attempting to serve membership and attempting to serve the public. As Stuckart points out in his letter,
I have seen GSI oppose massive multi-million dollar projects to protect the interests of current members. This is the opposite of what an economic development organization would and should do.
In early 2007, the Spokane Area Economic Development Council and the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce merged to form Greater Spokane, Inc.
The convoluted dynamic between acting in the public’s best interest and acting in the best interest of dues-paying members has devolved to the point where the President of Spokane City Council has raised legitimate concerns. As a provider of a significant portion of GSI’s public funding, Stuckart questions the wisdom of biting the hand that feeds them:
What has happened on numerous occasions is that GSI sends a representative to Council meetings, whether it be the executive director or public policy director, to testify against our actions. As a funder, I am then asked to approve a correlating contract a month later to fund the organization.
In 2014, the City of Spokane gave GSI $117,000. In 2015, the City gave GSI $130,000. Spokane County and numerous other local municipalities annually contribute public money to GSI.
It’s been widely written on this blog how to improve GSI and thereby generally improve the economic development environment for the entire City of Spokane. Stuckart’s suggestions are in tune with industry best practices and general public integrity.
I am requesting that the GSI Executive Committee begin serious discussions regarding the separation of the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Organization.
In a response letter dated October 27, Dr. Johnson and GSI’s Chair-Elect, (Larry Soehren, President of Keimle & Hagood) provided a five-paragraph rebuttal that did not directly address Stuckart’s concerns, including the following statement:
To share some perspective on GSI’s dual role, there is a widespread view that it is a distinguishing characteristic that is serving our region in many beneficial ways. It has created a collective voice for eastern Washington in Olympia and in Washington, D.C. that has yielded strong results for years, including last year’s results that benefit the City, as well as our surrounding communities.
GSI’s response letter goes on to cite all of their self-proclaimed accomplishments, including the North/South Freeway, a medical school in the university District, and support for school levies.
As SpokanePlanner sees it, the greatest challenge for GSI when boasting about their “accomplishments” is actually finding one that they are directly responsible for. The North/South Freeway was approved by the Washington State legislature, GSI actually lobbied against WAZZU establishing a medical school in the University District (ask anybody in the loop, they’ll tell ya), and the school levies were approved by local tax payers.
GSI will attempt to placate Stuckart’s concerns by “…sharing the letter with the executive committee next week.”
Unfortunately, because GSI is a private organization, the public is not allowed to attend the meeting.
Here are both letters (PDFs):