Friday, August 26, 2005


Stone rebuked for choosing one group over another
By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer

RIVERSIDE ---- County officials Tuesday rejected Supervisor Jeff Stone's plan to give public money to a fledgling Menifee chamber of commerce headed by a former Stone staff member, while giving nothing to a rival chamber that has served the area for three decades. County supervisors said they could not support a proposal that would divide a community.

In proposing to deliver $141,500 in county community improvement funds to 15 organizations, Stone asked the Board of Supervisors to award $30,000 to the Menifee-Sun City Chamber of Commerce, which formed in April.

The business group is led by former Stone staff member Julie Johnson, who left in May to become the chamber's president and chief executive officer. At the same time, Stone's list of suggested recipients left out the established Menifee Valley Chamber of Commerce, which was Johnson's former employer and has frequently clashed with the supervisor.

Stone contended the older group's decision months ago to explore a merger with the Hemet chamber threatened to hurt Menifee by undermining the community's efforts to build a tax base and form a city. A Menifee Valley member said the merger was no longer on the table. In any event, the county supervisors said Tuesday they could not support a proposal that would give one business group tens of thousands of dollars and zero to another group performing the same service in the same community. "I'm very sad that this took place," Supervisor Bob Buster said. "We're all here to bring communities together, not to split up groups."Supervisor John Tavaglione added that the county funds in question were intended for nonprofit organizations that provide public services to communities, not for chambers of commerce that promote private business development.

After seeing that his proposal was about to be shot down, Stone withdrew the spending request for the Menifee-Sun City chamber, as well as a request to award $10,000 to an Idyllwild chamber.

The supervisors voted 4-0, with member Roy Wilson absent, to approve the remaining requests.Among the recipients are Canyon Lake Lighthouse, $5,000; the Winchester Volunteer Fire Department, $10,000; the county's Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, $5,000; the Commission on Women, $2,500; the county Economic Development Agency, $25,000; and Temecula Noon Rotary, $500.

Six people, most of them members of the older Menifee Valley chamber, strode to the podium to protest Stone's plan. Among them was Joe Daugherty, a Sun City business owner and local school board member. "We don't need to split Menifee any more," Daugherty said. Dawn Prather of Murrieta, a past chairwoman of the Menifee Valley chamber, asked, "Why is only the new chamber getting a share and the old chamber being abandoned?" Michael Foster, president and chief executive officer for Menifee Valley, read a one-page letter from the group's membership.

"It is with some confusion and frustration that we come to you today concerning Supervisor Stone's request to grant public funds as a means of endorsing a chamber of commerce that he himself has started," Foster said. "We are both frustrated and confused because, never in the history of this board has any supervisor immersed himself or herself into the politics of a local community to the point that we have reached here today. ... He is apparently doing everything in his power to shut down a chamber that has faithfully served its community for more than 30 years."

Stephen Tapley of Temecula, who owns a Sun City shopping center, said he was pressured by members of Stone's staff to provide office space for the new chamber rent free. Stone disputed that point, saying the private business group intended to pay a fee.Stone made no apologies for focusing attention on the new chamber."Frankly, in the last year the old chamber had the wrong board of directors. They were going down the wrong path," Stone said. "They need to focus on building their own tax base, not Hemet's."The established chamber claims more than 300 members. Stone said the new group's membership is approaching 200.Johnson, the new group's president, did not speak at the meeting.

In an interview Monday, she said it was appropriate to fund her chamber and not the other because her group is the one with the local focus."Two chambers can exist and we're proving it right now," Johnson said. "That's just the way it is; it's called the free enterprise system. It's the American way of life. You don't create monopolies, and that benefits the American consumer."Contact staff writer Dave Downey at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2616, or


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