Bloggers, pundits and political observers are buzzing in Nevada County — and it’s not just because “It’s Miller Time.”
The slogan, plastered in front of a building on Main Street in Grass Valley that also happens to house the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, is only one of a handful of “huh?” items that have election-watchers scratching their heads.
“The Chamber is totally nonpartisan,” said Grass Valley Chamber CEO Keith Davies in response to questions about the sign, which appears to support Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller’s attempt to unseat incumbent Nevada County District 3 Supervisor Terry Lamphier.
“We cannot, we will not and we never will endorse any candidates,” Davies said.
Said Miller: “My campaign had nothing to do with that sign. My campaign did not give anyone permission to post that sign. It was done by a private property owner who supports my campaign.”
Questions are also being raised on campaign donations for Miller and Lamphier. In addition, eyebrows are being raised about an email blast from the Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce that included an invitation to a Feb. 20 fundraiser for incumbent District 4 Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston.
“Who said chambers are politically nonpartisan?” is the title of a blog post in the Sierra Foothills Report that questions the email.
Barbara Bashall, executive director of the Grass Valley-based Nevada County Contractors Association, referred all comments about the invitation to the fundraiser, organized by the group’s political action committee, to the Penn Valley Chamber. Weston recently received a $5,000 contribution from the PAC.
“We’re not endorsing Hank Weston,” said Penn Valley Chamber President Mike Mastrodonato. “We’re an apolitical organization that promotes businesses in our area.
“We’re also advocates for the community at large,” Mastrodonato added. “Here in Penn Valley, we don’t have a local municipal government so people are looking for a voice, and we take that role of getting information out to the community. “
He said the Penn Valley Chamber does work closely with the Nevada County Contractors’ Association.
“Members of the association are also our community members,” he said. “If they ask us to promote an event or gathering, we’ll do it, and for anybody else who asks.”
Mastrodonato said Weston’s opponent, attorney Fran Cole, has also requested that the chamber send out an invitation for her upcoming fundraiser.
“We said, ‘certainly,’” Mastrodonato said.
Lamphier, meanwhile, defended himself against a pundit’s question about a $5,000 donation to his campaign Sept. 30 from Carol Young, developer of the planned Rincon del Rio housing project. The pundit, in an email to The Union, claimed that the donation gave the appearance of a conflict of interest because it came in close to the time that the project was up for approval, litigation and then settlement last year.
Lamphier said that actually, the contribution was not timed to coincide with the project approval, which was done in April. The subsequent litigation and settlement negotiations were handled by lawyers, with little or no input from the supervisors, he said.
“The agreement was negotiated at a staff level,” said Nevada County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green. The settlement, which included a series of language and other changes to the project plan, was reached in November.
Lamphier said Young’s support was a personal preference and not tied to any projects before the board.
“Now, it’s all over and she’s walking neighborhoods with me,” Lamphier said.
Similarly, Miller’s contributors and sign-posters said they were acting out of personal support and not on behalf of any group.
Robin Galvan-Davies, executive director of the Grass Valley Chamber, contributed $500 to Miller’s campaign in the last reporting period between Jan. 1 and March 17.
“My wife has known Dan Miller for 40 years,” said Keith Davies. “I’ve known him for 50 years.
“You’re not going to find a nicer, kinder gentleman,” Davies said.
“My wife’s donation is personal and has nothing to do with the Chamber of Commerce.”
As to the sign, Keoni Allen, of Foothills Construction Company, who owns the Main Street building where the banner appears, said he has been posting campaign signs “supporting something or somebody” on his building every election cycle since 2002.
“This is nothing new,” said Allen, who said he was acting as a private citizen and not representing his tenant, the Chamber of Commerce. “I’m doing what I do, which is to speak my mind. I’m still allowed to speak my mind.”
Miller, for his part, said he finds the whole sign issue humorous. He said he’s not worried about violating the Miller Beer trademark since it was not his idea to post the banner.
“I laughed when I saw it,” he said. “It brought some levity to the campaign.”
Miller also jabbed at The Union, which used “It’s Miller Time” as a headline 20 years ago when he was first appointed Grass Valley mayor.
“No one questioned that back then, why do it now?” he said.
“It’s the state of local politics that people are looking for anything to criticize.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.