These last few months have had some in the community wondering about the regular bouts of drama surrounding the Renton Chamber of Commerce and its leadership. Locals have reported Twitter posts denying the outcome of the 2020 elections, messages deleted on social media, allegations of lawsuits against local candidates and community members, and no public statements as these controversies arise to leave anyone assured about the direction of the organization.
Last month, the Renton Chamber of Commerce’s Twitter account had two tweets liked which became promoted on the timeline of anyone following them. One of the tweets claimed that Biden was not the legitimate winner of the 2020 elections, a conspiracy by the far-right to claim Trump is President, while another tweet was a video diatribe against Critical Race Theory, an academic topic in colleges, but one which has become a buzzword for the far-right in an attempt to erase the history of slavery and segregation from school lessons. The same night after complaints were made about the Chamber liking these tweets they were silently removed with no public statements clarifying their position nor denouncing the extremist tweets.
This is not the first time this year the Renton Chamber of Commerce has come under public scrutiny. When flops like these happen, the response chosen has been to make statements demonstrating that they’ve used their space for Diversity Equity & Inclusion events, or other excuses attempting to show their commitments to these efforts. Some wonder, if their staff is concerned about the right-wing buzzwords of the week like Critical Race Theory, is their workplace culture even adapting to and learning from these DEI events? And what of an influential business organization or its leaders promoting conspiracies about the 2020 elections?
The situation with the tweets came not long after another strange story made its rounds in town, which perhaps is a pattern of toxic behavior being demonstrated to limit the diversity of thought. In July, the CEO of the Renton Chamber of Commerce allegedly claimed to have a majority of the board’s support for suing local candidates in the 2021 elections over libel or slander. Other community members came forward with claims they were threatened with lawsuits from the Renton Chamber of Commerce or its leadership as well.
What brings more questions to the table is that James Alberson, a board member of the Renton Chamber of Commerce, is also a candidate for local office who made it through to the general election. The Chamber allegedly reached out to several candidates, including one of his opponents. This has opened questions to the motivation behind the threats, are they partly politically driven? Is his leadership in any way behind it?
A statement from the Renton Chamber of Commerce is necessary on these matters. The public deserves to know if they respect the results of the 2020 elections and why local candidates and other residents are being threatened by its leadership with lawsuits. We also deserve to be informed on what will be done to address an internal workplace culture that is toxic to anti-racism, and how they plan to prevent promoting materials online like these again. More importantly, if there continues to be no response we need to have our city leaders address who our tax dollars go to when an organization is not committed to the democracy they benefit from.