C of C’s Reduction Of Mayor’s State Of City Role Sparks Upland Council Row

More than a quarter of a century of tradition in the City of Gracious Living is on the brink of being shattered as the Chamber of Commerce has shifted the format of Upland’s annual state of the city forum to one that will not have a speech by the mayor summarizing the economic and social outlook of the community as its centerpiece.
Rather, in what some see as a slap at the incumbent mayor and what others view as a prudent and politically logical move to distance the chamber of commerce from the current ruling majority on the city council, the Upland Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors this year invited John Husing, a regional economist, to give the keynote speech for the traditional event, which is slated to be held at Cable Airport on March 22.
In Upland, as in many local cities, the tradition of holding a “State of the City” event, similar to that of the annual State of the Union Address that is one of the few constitutionally mandated duties of a sitting U.S. president, has developed. In most cases, it is the mayor who is accorded the honor of giving the state of the city speech.
And so it has been in Upland for many years. In Upland, the speech originated as an extension of city governance and community outreach, one that included seeking to bring in as many local institutions to attend or participate as possible. Over the years, San Antonio Hospital and the San Antonio Water Company, the Upland School District and the Upland Chamber of Commerce became mainstays of the event. Indeed, the chamber of commerce, with its hosting, promotional, event planning and networking resources and expertise, as well as its ready contact with many of the city’s most heavily-vested businesses and entrepreneurs, became a key participant in the annual state of the city forum. The chamber some time ago adopted the forum, featuring the mayor as its centerpiece, as a fundraising opportunity, selling tickets to the event, and using the proceeds as part of its operating capital.
Even in the leanest of times, the city’s mayors have sought during the state of the city presentation to offer an upbeat assessment of where the city stands, and enunciated confidence about the city’s direction. The forum is essentially one intended to provide positive publicity not only for City Hall but the business community in general and businesses which are members of the chamber in particular.
For five years, Upland Mayor Ray Musser, who succeeded his disgraced predecessor, John Pomierski, shortly before the latter’s 2011 federal indictment, has fulfilled the role of being the main draw of the annual state of the city affair. Whereas Pomierski before him had essentially monopolized the forum, Musser had striven to be somewhat more inclusive, inviting other members of the council to participate by providing an exposition of the operations of city departments or providing their own perspective. In recent years, Musser delivered the main portion of the state of the city address itself but allowed others to formulate it, as when two years ago then-city manager Stephen Dunn actually wrote most of Musser’s speech or last year when the city’s public relations consultant, Steve Lambert, used input from the city’s various department heads to provide an overview of city operations.
Within the last six to seven months there has been some degree of contretemps involving the mayor and the Upland Chamber of Commerce. Somewhat ironically, Musser is a past president of the chamber, of which he has been a longstanding member based upon his ownership of an insurance agency within the city located in an office building just opposite of the civic center. September 2015 would turn out to be a less-than-comfortable month for Musser. Early on, he suffered a cardiac episode which landed him in the hospital, where doctors then performed a triple bypass on him. Some two-and-a-half weeks later, at the end of the month, he was presiding over a city council meeting at which he was served with recall papers. One of the signatories on that document, technically referred to as a “notice of intent to circulate a recall petition” was Eric Gavin, a chamber of commerce member who shortly before had been chosen by the chamber’s governing board to serve as the chamber’s primary interface with the city in its leadership academy, a six-month program devoted to the cultivation and application of leadership skills, involving workshops and seminars on a variety of societal, community and civic topics, including education, health care, public safety and municipal government. The academy is oriented specifically with regard to topics with an impact on Upland, and those attending each seminar or workshop brainstorm afterwards with regard to sizing up how that particular issue is impacting Upland and what potential actions the city might take with regard to those issues. After the Musser recall effort was officially initiated on September 28 with the serving of the recall petition on Musser, Gavin gave further indication of his intent to take a leadership role in the Musser recall effort, acting as the master of ceremonies at a recall committee formation meeting at the city’s senior citizens center.
Reflexively, Musser visited the chamber office to let chamber officials, including operations manager Terri Galdo and chamber board chairman Terry Jeffers, know that he was less than pleased with one of the chamber’s higher profile member’s involvement in the ongoing attempted political coup. Musser said he felt that Gavin’s involvement in the recall effort might be construed as transforming the chamber into a political action committee. Further citing the coordination between the leadership academy’s recommendation process and the city council, to whom those recommendations are provided, Musser asked Galdo and Jeffers to either have Gavin rescind his endorsement of the recall effort or have the chamber remove Gavin as the leadership academy’s city interface principal.
Gavin protested that Musser had overstepped his authority as mayor in making the request of the chamber.
“I was shocked – shocked – to learn that the mayor had visited the chamber and told them that he would not support this program if I remained its project manager, simply because he saw my name on the recall petition,” Gavin said in October.
Despite Gavin’s protests that his rights of free speech and political participation were being suppressed, the chamber board’s majority chose to divert itself from what looked to be an untoward political Donneybrook. Forthwith, Gavin was informed by the chamber of commerce he would no longer serve as the project manager of the organization’s leadership academy.
On September 29, Gavin dashed off a missive to the chamber board in which he asserted “the chamber is a political organization,” despite the chamber’s own resistance to being so defined. He further stated that “because my name, being potentially associated with an effort to recall Mayor Musser could be a detriment to the success of the vital leadership program, I willingly defer to the chamber’s preference for handling this situation.”
The chamber board did not spare any time at all in making its decision to cashier Gavin as the program manager.
Stating “There were several factors that went into this decision, some of which were totally unrelated to Mayor Musser,” Jeffers publicly explicated the reason the chamber was distancing itself from the individual it had until that point considered an exemplary community leader: “It is crucial that the person who holds this position interface closely with city council members, including the mayor,” said Jeffers.
On October 9, Gavin received an email from the chamber’s executive board of directors informing him it had been “decided that you can no longer act effectively as project manager for the Upland Leadership Academy, a strictly non-political organization. As a result, the board has passed a motion to remove you from that position as of this date.” The email further stated, “The success of the leadership academy is significantly dependent on the active support of Upland’s current leadership, and cannot tolerate any hint of political discord in implementing its program.”
In the intervening months, the recall effort against Musser has languished, even as recall efforts against three of his colleagues have been launched.
During the same timeframe, Gavin has regrouped and reestablished his ties with some members of the chamber, in particular those who hold Musser in low esteem and were passively in favor of Musser’s recall or in some measure actively in support of it. Moreover, the chamber leadership appears to be shifting toward acknowledging rather than downplaying its political leanings. For example, Eric Hanson, who runs a cybernetic services company in Upland and is also in a long term relationship with council member Debbie Stone, is the chamber of commerce’s president elect, who is on schedule to assume that top leadership role later this year. It is an open secret that Stone is a very likely candidate for mayor in the upcoming November election, though she has not officially declared her candidacy. Previously, there were strong indicators that Musser, who was first elected to the city council in 1998 and is now 80 years old, would not seek reelection this year. The failed recall effort, led by former city manager Stephen Dunn, seems to have offended his sense of legacy and emboldened him. There now appears a possibility, moving toward likelihood, that he will run once more.
Within the last fortnight, an indication of the chamber’s newfound status as a bulwark against the power of City Hall, particularly as is represented by what is, to all appearances, a tenuous ruling coalition consisting of Musser and council members Glenn Bozar and Carol Timm, has manifested
In fulfilling that newfound role of dissent, the chamber moved to redefine the forum of the state of the city event as one that does not pivot around Musser as it centerpoint. This led, Monday night, to what turned out to be the biggest catfight on the Upland City Council dais in memory.
Scheduled for discussion as the last item on the February 8 council meeting agenda was an item that stated simply, “Provide direction to [city] staff regarding the date and format for the 2015 state of the city event.” There was no accompanying staff report included as backup material with the agenda item.
“I’m very, very hurt,” Musser told the crowd at the council meeting. “Someone said [I am] ‘miffed.’ I’m not miffed – I have plenty to do. I’m a past president of the chamber twice and a member for 43 years. That’s a long time, it’s one of the longest small business [memberships in the chamber].” He then chronicled his participation in the state of the city event over the five-year period he has been mayor. In 2011, he said, “The city did the whole thing from beginning to end. The chamber helped with the sound system.” In 2012, the event, he said, was “hosted” by Western Christian High School. “The city designed the video and the high school put it together,” he recalled. “I’m trying to say this is the state of the city, not the state of the chamber.” In 2013 it was held at the YMCA, Musser said, but conceded, “The funds were all going to the chamber,” though he said a dispute with the caterer of the event resulted in nearly all of the profits being eaten up. In 2014, he said the event took place at San Antonio Community Hospital, with what he said was a turnout of “about 160. Again, the city put the program together. The staff and I worked on picking the date.” And last year, Musser said, the event was also held at San Antonio Hospital, where hopes that an even larger turnout than the previous year were not met.
“Now this year it is going a different direction,” Musser lamented. “For four years we worked together nicely. The city was in charge of the program and also picked the time, picked the date and the program. Now, this year, I didn’t hear much and I kept asking, and I think the city manager will back me up on this, every two weeks or so. Finally on December First, I asked for a meeting with the chamber. I had not been given an invitation. I asked for a meeting with the executive director and the chairman of the board and we put into writing our plans. We said we’re going in a different direction.”
Musser noted that the chamber decision to cut him out of their version of the state of the city event was not one universally supported by the chamber membership. He read from a letter sent by Bill Huff, the longest participating member of the chamber, to the chamber’s executive director, Terry Galdo, and its board of directors. “’What is this?’” Musser read out loud, quoting Huff’s missive. “’I thought the state of the city was presented by the mayor. Your speaker is a well-known economist for this region that presented a very informative program to the San Antonio Regional Hospital on January the 12th. However, it is wrong for you to approve this as a city event, logo included, without council approval. As a former board member for 16 years and member for 50 years, please consider my thoughts and concerns. I am sure I am not alone.’”
Musser then offered what he called “an alternative,” which consisted of putting on a city-sponsored state of the city address on April 19th at the Brethren In Christ Church. He said the school district and San Antonio Hospital had already agreed to participate. He said tickets to the event could be had for $20 per person or $15 for seniors and for those under 21. This is contrasted with the $60 that the chamber is charging for the event it will hold at Cable Airport.
“The Upland Community Foundation will market the event and all proceeds above the cost will help our homeless in Upland,” Musser said.
Musser said he wanted the city to write a letter to the chamber to tell it “to stop using the term state of the city and city logo and approaching the city’s vendors. I just feel strongly about this. As the top person of the organization, you have to be in charge of what you are in charge of and not have somebody else do it for you.”
City manager Rod Butler said what he hoped to get from the city council was a consensus as to whether the city would “go forward with a separate city event.” Butler said he further hoped to allay concern that he and staff were “taking direction from one member of the council,” meaning Musser. In addition, Butler said, he wanted to learn from the council whether the city was authorized to “participate in that event (i.e., the March 22 chamber of commerce affair) and the level of city participation. I would just say, as we look toward 2017, I would suggest we work together with the chamber to get some clarification on the roles and relationships of the chamber and the city on this event. Part of the problem was I was operating on what I have seen in [the] past [in] cities [in which he was previously employed] where normally, even if there is a chamber sponsoring the event, the city has a major role in developing the agenda and providing the speaker or the program, and so it was a little bit of a different approach to me to see the chamber making some pretty major changes to the format, the location and the content. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. And if the council is comfortable with that, that’s fine. It’s just different from what I have seen in the past. I think we might prevent confusion in the future by… looking forward to next year’s event [and] having those roles clarified a bit.”
The discussion began to devolve when Councilwoman Debbie Stone bore in on Butler, seeking to wring from him an explanation as to why he had previously given indication to the chamber that the city was on board to participate in the forum as proposed, with Husing as the keynote speaker, but had then reneged. “Rod, I have a question,” Stone began. “How can you meet with the chamber two weeks ago and agree to do all of this with them on the 22nd and then jerk the rug out from underneath them? Is that because the mayor came to you and said, “I’m not going to do it anymore? The mayor doesn’t make the decisions for this whole council. I’m really frustrated that you would tell – whether it is the chamber or the hospital or whoever – ‘Oh yeah we’re all in. We’re going to do this, rah, rah, rah. Let’s move forward’ and then say, just two weeks later, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to do it.’”
Butler sought to assuage Stone by explaining, “At that time, at that meeting, it was my belief we could have both events and city staff could participate in the March 22 event. The mayor did express some concerns about staff’s involvement in both events and it was based on that concern – again I’m operating on what I know from the past, from cities I’ve worked for in the past and last year I was here for the 2015 event – it seemed like we pretty much controlled at least the content of the agenda and the mayor’s speech at that event. So, the one mistake that I will take a public flogging on on Euclid Avenue for tonight later on if you want to, is I should not have sent the memo to the chamber until we had this discussion with the whole council. So…”
Stone then turned to Musser, letting him have it with both barrels. “The other thing and mayor, I guess this question is for you, is you want to go and do your own thing. Who is going to pay for it? [Are] the residents of Upland going to pay for it? Right now we have an opportunity to partner with the chamber and it not cost the city a dime. So I want to know how you are going to pay for all of this.”
Musser asserted, “We have sponsors to pay for it.”
Councilman Gino Filippi said that he shared some of Stone’s concerns. He disputed Musser’s assertion that the state of the city event was a creature of City Hall.
“The chamber has always had this as an important event and they worked with the city,” he said.
Filippi charged Musser with overreaching his authority and, essentially, violating the city code by directing Butler to act without first getting authorization from the city council on that policy decision. “You come in and you are under the impression that you are going to make these decisions but if you look at the actual municipal code, it doesn’t reflect that,” Filippi said. “You provided direction to the city manager to basically tell the chamber that we don’t have a deal. I have a problem with that.”
Filippi then quoted passages from the city code which stipulate that the council as a whole is to act through giving collective direction to the city manager and that “neither the city council nor any member thereof shall give orders or instruction to any subordinates of the city manager. The manager shall take his instructions from the city council.”
Fillipi said, “The instruction you imposed on our city manager without the consultation of this council ordered the city manager to tell the chamber ‘you don’t have a deal, guys, basically, and you are not going to have access to staff.’ And I think that’s a great disservice and I don’t support anything you are going to go do on your own.”
At two further points, the discussion grew heated and took on political overtones.
Stone suggested that Musser, and by extension Bozar, harbored some animus toward the chamber of commerce because former city manager Stephen Dunn, who left that position in June 2014 after a series of confrontations with Musser and Bozar in the spring of 2014, has become active in chamber affairs.
“This has always been a chamber event,” Stone asserted, “Is it because it is at Cable airport? Is it because Stephen Dunn is involved? I want to know what the real issue is because the issue is not the chamber. I’d like to know what it is.”
Councilman Glenn Bozar offered his view that’s there was a “lot of politics playing out” in the situation. He noted that it was the chamber that took it upon itself to deviate radically from the traditional format of the state of the city forum. “The mayor sent an email a couple of weeks ago to say please discontinue referencing this as a state of the city address,” Bozar said. “I think the board made a strategic error by not taking a pause and [seeking to] dialogue as a good partner.” Bozar then referenced the chamber’s intent to use Husing as the event’s keynote speaker. “He is a regional economic guy,” Bozar asserted. “I don’t believe this city or any city brings in a regional speaker to talk at a city event. I don’t think anybody in past state of the city [events] brought in outside speakers. It’s a city function, the state of the city. I think the chamber board created this problem. If the chamber wants to call this an economic outlook meeting, go ahead. You can call it a rodeo. It doesn’t matter. This is not a state of the city thing. Then we hear ‘Oh, by the way, we’ll let you have some time for some city speakers. We’ll let you be in the program. We’ll allot some time.’” Bozar implied this was insulting to both the city and the mayor.
Bozar criticized the chamber for forcing the issue by sending out a notice of the event before the format for the event was clarified and before it was “aired out” as to whether there was to be the inclusion of the mayor’s speech in the event program as has historically been the case.
“So you have to have a separate state of the city meeting not involving a regional economist,” Bozar opined. “It doesn’t belong there. If you want to have this event, go ahead and have the event, but don’t call it a state of the city thing. You are usurping the authority of the city to use their logo. I believe, based on the past with the speakers involved, it was totally a city event. It was not a regional forecast by John Husing. Let the city do its thing and let the chamber do their thing.”
Councilwoman Carol Timm found herself occupying the political no-man’s land that separated the two warring factions. She said as much.
“I just feel stuck in the middle because I like both entities and I believe in our city,” Timm said. “I know the chamber loves their city and the mayor loves our city. I think every council person here cares about our city. To have a controversy like this is embarrassing.”
She said that the chamber’s decision to remove the mayor’s state of the city presentation from the event this year when historically the mayor has been a centerpiece of the event was perplexing to her.
“I was confused,” she said.
Timm said she wanted to head off similar problems from manifesting again. “I do agree with Mr. Butler that it’s a really good idea that in the future we have a person on the [chamber] committee so the city is constantly getting communication about what is going on and how is this working,” she said.
The growing hostility between the chamber and the mayor appeared to be genuinely painful to her, as did the tension between, on one side, Filippi and Stone, and on the other Musser and Bozar.
She sought in vain to mend the bridge between the two factions.
“I believe there has been a great miscommunication,” she said. “I think in this case both the mayor and the chamber have good intentions. I truly believe that but there has been miscommunication.”
With regard to the chamber’s March 22 event, she said, “It sounds like a great program but I can see how the mayor feels as he does, that he wasn’t included. But I think it is going to be a great event. I believe the chamber is doing an economic development [event]. I believe it would be great to have staff there. I’m also in support of the mayor, if he wants to have a separate state of the city and it doesn’t cost any money, if there is no net cost to the city and it is self-supporting, I would be in favor of going ahead with that. Let’s do the best we can for our city. Let’s show the economics of it with John Husing. Let’s show what the mayor has to say or Debbie, or have all of the council people speaking. The city should have a part of the state of the city. I just think it was a miscommunication. Let’s get together. Let’s think of an alternative.”
That effort at fence mending did not work, however. Filippi insisted on forcing to a vote his motion, which was seconded by Stone, to resume communication with the chamber and honor what he said was Butler’s agreement to have the city participate in the chamber function along the lines that the chamber had outlined.
Before the vote was taken, however, Filippi stated that the chamber had extended some level of an invitation to Musser to participate in its forum, which Musser denied, and Stone grew argumentative, questioning whether Musser had the right to insist that the chamber not use the city logo or desist from referring to its event as a one that used the term “state of the city.”
City Attorney Richard Adams opined that such a direction would have to come from the city council. Stone then asserted that Musser had in fact written such a letter without council authorization.
Stone then angled questions at Butler, asking if the chamber had offered to allow Musser to participate in its program.
When Butler responded, “At both of the meetings I had with the planning committee, they talked about having a significant segment of the program for the city…,” Stone interrupted him to state, “That is not what I asked you. Was he asked…” Butler then cut off the rest of her question to state, “Part of that could be the mayor…” Stone then cut him off. “Thank you,” she said. “There you go, Mr. Mayor.”
This pointed dig at Musser provoked Bozar, who stated, “I think we need a little public disclosure here. Is one of the council member’s significant other a board member?” Bozar’s reference was to Eric Hanson.
This, in turn, provoked Stone. “Glenn, don’t even go down that way,” she said. “It has nothing to do with that.” When Musser gestured in such a way as to try to diffuse the burgeoning argument between Bozar and Stone, Stone snapped at the mayor, “Ray, don’t put your hand up at me. You and that whole other group want to blame Eric for my decisions. I’m a big girl. I can make my own decisions. You can say whatever you want, but whose wife is on the Upland Community Foundation Board? Yours, so don’t sit here and blame Eric.”
When the vote was taken, the council deadlocked 2 to 2 on Filippi’s motion to turn the state of the city event over entirely to the chamber. Timm, yet seeking some middle ground, abstained.
Ultimately, Bozar then made a motion to “let the chamber have their regional forecast meeting,” and the city have its own state of the city event. Musser seconded it. After Musser and Bozar assured Timm that support of the motion would not preclude city council members or city staff from participating in the chamber forum, she supported the motion and it passed 3-2.
Chamber president elect Eric Hanson disputed the notion that the Annual Upland State of the City event has traditionally been held under the purview of the city and that the chamber was simply a participant.
“The chamber was not a participant, but the complete organizer for the last 11 years,” he said. “The chamber has always chosen the date.”
Nor was it accurate that the city or the mayor had been slighted in the chamber’s designing of the format for this year’s event, Hanson said.
“He was never cut out,” Hanson said of Musser. Hanson said that Butler, the city manager, acknowledged that Musser knew an invitation to participate in the forum had been extended to him.
“The city manager actually stated that Mayor Musser knew,” Hanson said.
Hanson suggested that it was Musser’s animus at former city manager Stephen Dunn that led to the mayor’s decision not to participate in the chamber forum, which is to be held at Cable Airport, where Dunn is now the operations manager.
“He was angry and thought the location was a move by Dunn to slap him in the face when it was actually offered by Bob Cable [the owner of the airport],” Hanson said.
Hanson acknowledged that the chamber had marketed the event as one that would not feature the mayor or the city as participants in the program, but had done so only after Musser had signaled the city was not going to participate.
“The only reason that the city was not on the initial state of the city marketing was that we did not know if the mayor was participating and to what extent, per the city manager. The chamber has always coordinated the event with city staff and occasionally clarified things with whoever was speaking. The chamber met with the city manager and assistant city manager regarding the format. They were asked if 40 minutes for the city’s portion of the presentation would suffice, including any remarks the mayor would like to make if he did participate, and if they needed more time, it would be given. John Husing is a key speaker to tie the regional outlook to how it affects the city. This is no different than what Ontario is doing this year. Musser only became upset and questioned the location as soon as he found out about it.”
Hanson said that Musser had made “a unilateral decision not supported by the council as a whole” to “direct the city manager to send a message to the chamber stating the city was not supporting the event.”
For his part, Musser said he had made repeated inquiries with the chamber last year to ascertain what plans the chamber had for the event’s format but was repeatedly rebuffed. He insisted that the state of the city address in Upland has always been a function of the mayor’s office.

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