Having proclaimed in the last post here our prior relationship with various chamber of commerce operations, including the Indianapolis chamber, we felt compelled to comment on the current IBJ article about that particular organization. The time period covered in our discussion here is 1962-66.
As a staff member without "need to know," over-all financial matters of the chamber were not part of our job description. There is no recollection about dues structure, total budget, reserves, etc.. (Only one particular salary was important.) But we are certain that leadership policy of the time would have seen no need for public funds.
Our title was, as remembered, Director of Governmental Affairs, and the job included lobbying efforts at the General Assembly every two years.
The most time-consuming part of the job involved an independent body known as the Mayor’s Budget Advisory Committee (MBAC). The members of that committee, who were also members of the chamber’s Tax Committee, reviewed every local government budget every year, including Marion County, Indianapolis civil city and Indianapolis public schools.
All staff research work for the MBAC was done by the chamber’s one-man governmental affairs department, including assembling information on past and current budgets, current expenditure levels, projected expenditures, and future budget proposals.
Other than appropriate interviews with department heads and others responsible for fiscal matters, no public officials met with the MBAC to discuss its work. (It may be of interest to some that during this time period, all mayors of the city - Charles Boswell, Albert Losche and John Barton - were Democrats.)
The MBAC made specific recommendations on new budget requests - some for decreases, occasionally even some for increases. But we must point out that, whether or not those recommendations were carried out by the appropriate agency, they represented the thoughts of civic minded businessmen, not political job-holders.
We have to wonder how objective current chamber positions can be on almost any public project, now that a "merger" of the chamber with "quasi-governmental" bodies would apparently mean at least part of the staff being political appointees, particularly while top members of the chamber staff itself have recent histories of government jobs.
And just as important, the "merging" of very fungible monetary funds might certainly raise the question of how or why the chamber should be receiving tax dollars at all. One might even question whether the chamber’s policy of all-out support of subsidy and special treatment for others has resulted in its own new situation.
Somewhere in this discussion, the chamber’s whole role becomes uncertain. We now have two separate "business" organizations in the city, both with taxpayer subsidy. The second, Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. (IDI), it seems to us, is doing only what would have been expected of the chamber itself in earlier times. The story in the paper certainly indicates the chamber has the funds to do its job.
The article refers to the chamber’s loss of membership in recent years, blaming the current economic situation. We wonder whether someone should be looking also at chamber policies and positions which seem so heavily to favor its downtown constituents at the expense, literally, of those in the outlying areas.
Age has dimmed our memory somewhat, but we don’t remember ever knowing of any chamber function presented as "...invitation-only...VIP dinner events...." Mom and Pop were always as welcome as the corporate CEO. We never saw, much less used, the term "elite members."
Maybe "fun days" on Georgia Street have not made much of an impression on the "not-so-elite" entrepreneur out on west 16th or east 38th streets.