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Santa Clara Council Members’ Organizations Benefit From “Improper” Convention Center Discounts, Chamber Practices

Organizations on whose boards Santa Clara City Council Members previously and currently sit have received discounts for years on their use of the Santa Clara Convention Center. At the same time they disavow any knowledge of the discounts and characterize them as irresponsible and possibly corrupt.

“I’m a Chamber [of Commerce] Member. I never got a discount,” said Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor at the Sept. 18 Council meeting. “I never heard of it.”

Interestingly, Gillmor sits on the Mission City Community Fund (MCCF) board, which has used Convention Center ballrooms without charge for its annual fundraiser for most of the last 20 years, as the organization’s tax returns show.

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Five City officials sit on the MCCF’s board, three of them Council Members: Council Member Debi Davis (chair), Mayor Gillmor and Council Member Patricia Mahan. Fire Chief Bill Kelly and Police Chief Mike Sellers also serve on the board.

From the MCCF’s start, Council Members have been on its board, although to anyone’s knowledge there has never been a discussion of the appropriateness of this. Council Members generally resign from other non-profit board positions after they’re elected.

That is the case with the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association — whose board has included Council Members Debi Davis and Kathy Watanabe. Sister Cities has also been a recipient of Convention Center discounts.

One of the major beneficiaries of the Convention Center’s discounts is the City itself, which pays nothing for the use of the facilities.

Former Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) Chair Kevin Park called the Council’s conduct “hypocritical” at a recent CAC meeting.

The Weekly requested comment from the Mission City Community Fund, but didn’t receive a response.

 

Council Member Davis Sold Chamber Memberships 

Prior to her election to the Council in 2012, Davis sold Chamber of Commerce memberships, including one to the Sister Cities Association. She also sold sponsorships for the Chamber-sponsored Celebrate Santa Clara festival, as historical webpage captures show. Davis has said that she knew nothing about Convention Center discounts for Chamber Members.

In 2012 she sought the Chamber’s endorsement for her City Council run, writing,

“As a Council Member I would welcome the opportunity to build a strong working relationship with the Chamber and its members, being able to call upon the Chamber for information on issues that concern business in our community. The Chamber can act as an advocate on issues that affect our economy, locally, regionally and nationally, to educate me on your positions on business, taxes, energy and other legislation that affects economic growth and development.”

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