To the editor:
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is seeking a new president and CEO. This presents an opportunity to rethink the role of the chamber in economic development.
The chamber is, as it should be, an advocate for the business community. Economic development involves the expansion of the local economy though public-private partnerships using a minimum of taxpayer expenditure and generating a maximum of new jobs, wages and tax revenues.
The chamber cannot be both an advocate for the business community and fairly represent the taxpayers in the design, negotiation and implementation of economic development programs. Too many of the chamber's actions in the past have misled the city into failed tax incentives, speculative buildings that sit empty, secret illegal meetings and offering unnecessary subsidies to high-risk firms, all at taxpayer expense. This is a record of failure that the taxpayers cannot afford.
Economic development planning should be carried out by skilled, professional planners who are employed by the city and answer only to the City Commission. It is foolish to think that anyone who is on the payroll of the Chamber of Commerce will go against the wishes of the chamber and side with the interests of the taxpayers when these interests are in conflict, as they frequently are.
The city needs to redefine the role of the chamber and bring economic development inside City Hall, leaving the Chamber of Commerce to advocate for business from outside City Hall, along with all the other advocacy groups.