Ann Arbor SPARK Withdraws From Chamber Luncheon
September 25, 2018
The organization that had been planning to co-sponsor a Brighton Chamber event next week has withdrawn amid concerns over its partisan appearance.
The Power Luncheon: Meet the Candidates! event is set to take place Friday, October 5th at the Oak Pointe Country Club. But after an e-mailed invitation to chamber members billed the event as “a panel of political incumbents” while featuring several non-incumbents and only Republican candidates, Ann Arbor SPARK has withdrawn its participation. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Phil Santer, the organization’s Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff, said they are, “removing ourselves from the upcoming meeting. In year’s past, a similar event connecting elected officials with the business community to discuss questions and concerns and share the business community’s needs was held in November. That’s not the case this year, and the nature of the event changed, as has our support of it. Ann Arbor SPARK is a non-profit, non-partisan organization and does not support or endorse political candidates."
Among those invited to attend was 8th District Congressman Mike Bishop, State Senate candidate Lana Theis, State House candidate Ann Bollin and State Representative Hank Vaupel. But neither Theis nor Bollin are incumbents. Theis is running against Democrat Adam Dreher for the 22nd State Senate seat and Bollin is taking on Democrat Mona Shand for the 42nd State House seat. In addition, a picture accompanying the invitation featured Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
When questioned about the discrepancy, Chamber President Pam McConeghy told WHMI the Political Power lunch is something they “do every year with incumbents (and that) whoever is elected in after November will be in our next political power lunch. We are non-partisan, just asking our incumbents to participate. Nothing off the normal.” When asked about Bollin’s participation despite not being an incumbent, McConeghy said she was “only representing as a member of our board” while James would not be present. She offered no explanation as to Theis’ participation, despite not being an incumbent.
Among those left scratching their heads at the inconsistencies was Rebecca Foster, a Pinckney Village Trustee who also serves as Secretary of the Economic Development Council of Livingston County, which works with Ann Arbor SPARK to provide economic development services to businesses in the area. Foster thinks the chamber “should call it what it is, a discussion of economic development with select candidates. Or their preferred candidates, or their endorsed candidates, if that is indeed the case.” But Foster thinks promoting it as a "Meet the Candidates" forum, “when you've only included some of them (and honestly, just the Republicans) - with a side of Joe Hune - is disingenuous at best.”
McConeghy admits that perhaps how they marketed the event could have been done better, but insists the chamber is non-partisan and points to their participation in an election forum October 18th in Hartland that will feature all of the candidates for various local, state and federal races. (JK)