Alleged “overt threats” by a Lake Elsinore City Council member to strip city funding for the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce have prompted a public statement.
A source, who asked to remain anonymous, alleges the threats have come from Lake Elsinore Mayor Pro Tem Daryl Hickman.
Calls to Hickman’s cell phone have not been returned.
According to the source, Hickman is targeting the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce and its Chairwoman Natasha Johnson due to her affiliation with the political action committee, A Better Lake Elsinore (ABLE). The group formed in direct response to the firing last month of Lake Elsinore City Manager Bob Brady. Hickman, along with council members Melissa Melendez and Peter Weber, cast the decisive votes.
ABLE targeted the three city council members during Brady's firing. But prior to the termination, Lake Elsinore resident Chris Hyland started the process to recall Hickman. She is adamant that ABLE and its members have not assisted her with the effort.
“I am doing this on my own,” Hyland has stated on numerous occasions.
The April 18 Chamber statement read, “Despite the apparent erroneous belief held by the Council member, ABLE is not a Chamber entity and is not a party to the ongoing attempt to recall Councilman Daryl Hickman.”
The Chamber maintains Johnson’s participation in ABLE is not a conflict of interest. For its part, ABLE asserts it assists "in positive growth for the City of Lake Elsinore," according to its website.
“Johnson emphasized that her political activity, just like the political activity of other Chamber members – from running for office, to donating to candidates, to serving on City commissions and committees – is absolutely and completely separate from Chamber activities,” the April 18 statement read. “The Chamber is dedicated to improving the business climate in Lake Elsinore and itself does not endorse candidates and strives at all times to remain as politically neutral as possible.”
Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce President Kim Cousins did not publicly speak for or against the city manager or the council members, and he distanced himself from the Johnson did make a stand with the group, but said she was not acting on behalf of the Chamber.
Still, the Chamber contends it and Johnson are being targeted.
“A Council member had recently stated on a number of occasions that they would end City funding for the Chamber unless Johnson were removed as Chairwoman of the Board and the Chamber reorganized,” according to the statement.
In a unanimous vote, on Aug. 23, 2011, the Lake Elsinore City Council approved an agreement between the city and the Lake Elsinore Valley Chamber of Commerce. Under the agreement, the Chamber provides services to the city such as promoting tourism and business, as well as general services. In return, the Chamber receives $85,000 paid in installments over the term of the contract that is set to expire June 30.
The April 18 statement from the Chamber comes one day after its board of directors voted 12-1 to reaffirm Johnson’s position with the organization.
“This action (the reaffirmation) … was necessitated by the overt threats made against the Chamber by a Lake Elsinore City Council member,” the Chamber statement read.