Over the years the Chamber has taken positions on controversial issues that pleased some members and upset others. Our positions have won us fans and cost us members. As an association with nearly 2000 diverse members, I accept this reality. I often ask those who are displeased and drop their membership to consider the totality of what we do and not to judge the value of membership based on a single issue. For some, that resonates while for others it does not.

Examples of positions that sparked controversy, and cost us members, were our support of Marriage Equality; our refusal to withdraw membership in the U. S Chamber of Commerce; support for Health Care Reform; support for the basing of the F-35 at the airport; pushback on an accelerated rise in the Minimum Wage; our support for the Burlington Town Center development and our support for welcoming new Americans into Vermont.

Most recently, and quite controversially, we vocalized our support for two of the three bidders for Burlington Telecom (excluding the local Co-Op proposal), support for a ‘per-parcel’ fee to assist with cleaning up the waters of the state and, our opposition for mandating LEED Gold Energy Standards as part of the Form Based Code before the Burlington City Council.  Each of these positions cross the political spectrum, reinforcing our philosophy that policy advocacy must be issue-based and fiercely non-partisan.

The process used to develop our positions begins from our Mission Statement: “we advocate for a thriving private sector economy that supports our members, their employees and the communities in which they exist”. We search for the common good and the ‘sane center’. Issues, some predictable and others unexpected, are filtered through the Chamber process based on the timeliness with which our position needs to be taken. If time allows, they begin with the Public Policy Committee and make their way through the Executive Committee and Board. Otherwise they are taken up by the Executive Committee acting on the behalf of the Board and its members. Under exigent circumstances I will, as President and CEO, take a position of behalf of the organization. In all cases, the issues are subject to open debate, and there are times that we change our views as a deeper exploration of an issue occurs, and times we admit that we were wrong.

Many chambers around the country have Political Action Committees (PACs) and use them to deflect controversy away from the organization. Our Chamber does not. We do not look to hide behind the fig-leaf independence afforded by a PAC. We believe that if we feel strongly about an issue, we should have the courage to own it and accept the consequences. That’s how we build and strengthen our Chamber’s credibility: Standing behind our mission and principles.

Thank you for reading this and please feel free to email me (tom@vermont.org) with any feedback that you might have.

Tom Torti

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