This spring, news of the halibut catch sharing plan downgrading charter boats to one halibut seared the town in a wave of worries. Upon reflection, it became apparent that any economic squeeze on the charter boats would also pinch hundreds of other entrepreneurs in town. The potter, the sandwich maker, the fish processors, the bait shops and the halibut whackers, among others, would all suffer.
The Homer Chamber of Commerce acts as an umbrella for more than 400 of these member businesses. Director Monte Davis was asked to go to bat for them. Many suggested a concerted effort to point out that there needs to be an economic study and more justification before the National Marine Fisheries Service imposed the new rule.
The chamber stepped up to the plate. Members voted; the board voted. Sure, it was a divisive issue. Charter boat captains didn’t want to go up against their friends in the commercial fishing industry. But, favoritism by the National Marine Fisheries Council seemed clearly pointed toward the majority interests of its own members that is stacked with commercial fishermen. In order to be heard, Homer businesses asked the chamber to send a strong message to the Fisheries Service. Commercial fishermen argued the chamber should sit this one out. It wasn’t the chamber’s place to speak for any single industry, they said.
Davis countered the argument by pointing out the majority of business members belonging to the chamber didn’t want a passive, no-action call.
And, to the credit of the NOAA who oversees the Fisheries Council, they listened to the flood of letters, including the chamber’s letter calling for better economic analysis and questioning on how the plan fit in with a harvest quota plan. As a result, the catch-sharing plan is on hold while essential information is being gathered to check the wisdom of the plan.
Now, it’s a cold November and Homer City Council budget time. Councilman Kevin Hogan, who has argued bitterly against the chamber’s involvement, and at one point walked out on the council, was of the group that didn’t want the chamber to take a stand. He owns the Auction Block, a business that moves tons of halibut across the dock and earns its profits from commercial fishermen. It is in Hogan’s economic interest to fight for his livelihood. But, it’s not in his interest when serving on the Homer City Council. He is there to represent constituents’ interests.
At Monday night’s city council meeting, Hogan made a move that appeared to favor his own economic interests over his constituents. His proposal was to yank all the funding, over $21,000, from the Homer Chamber of Commerce even though the chamber is in essence a contractor hired by the city to promote economic development.
As reason for zeroing out funding, Hogan claims the chamber doesn’t represent all the town’s business interests and, by taking a side last spring, it proved that.
Let’s hope that when it comes time for the final vote on the budget, that the council members will vote to sustain funding to the chamber.
The council should gather up the courage to question such moves when they surface. Ask Mr. Hogan if he is fulfilling his obligation as a city official if he is also worrying about a worthy organization that didn’t happen to agree with his sentiments?
In essence, was Hogan doing as he accused the chamber: taking a side of one industry over another? And is this appropriate, given that council members are elected by citizens?
Open government means not having to guess. Measures are in place for Hogan’s colleagues to ask about motivation for cuts aimed as a punitive lesson.
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