The Denton Chamber of Commerce recently moved out of a building on Parkway Street listed on Denton County tax records as city of Denton property, and into Denton’s new Development Services office. The close relationship between the city and the chamber goes back at least 100 years.
When College of Industrial Arts (present-day Texas Woman’s University) President Marion Bralley called for the removal of Quakertown residents “in a business way,” Denton’s Chamber of Commerce unanimously agreed. In 1927, six years after Denton forcibly removed Quakertown residents from the center of the city, Denton built a new City Hall with offices for the chamber.
The United States Chamber of Commerce is no longer a cash-strapped funnel cake-making group. According to Business Insider, Thomas Donahue vowed to transform the national organization to “the biggest gorilla … the most aggressive and vigorous business advocate our nation has ever seen” when he took the helm in 1997. Under Donahue’s leadership, the focus shifted from local businesses to legacy corporations — banking, tobacco, and oil and gas.
According to ChamberofCommercewatch.org, the U.S. Chamber was the largest political campaign contributor until the National Realtors Association surpassed it in 2021. The U.S. Chamber is one of the largest spenders of dark money, or undisclosed donor political spending. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, Denton’s 2020 and 2021 council races had plenty of Realtor association and undisclosed donations.
The city of Denton funds about 75% of the chamber’s $2.2 million annual budget. The chamber gets 51% of the hotel occupancy tax funds. The remaining HOT funds are divided between 19 groups to enhance tourism, arts and cultural events. The chamber uses some of its funds to pay six-figure salaries, which are rare in Denton.
Although economic development recently became a national trend, Denton’s Economic Development Partnership with the Chamber of Commerce began in 1987. The chamber’s economic development partnership receives additional funds from Denton Municipal Energy profits. EDP member investors are the top 20 business taxpayers, but other businesses can pay to play for $500 to $2,500. They all get a seat at the table with city staff and two City Council members. Denton’s EDP is really a part of the chamber.
Economic development is good for cities, but Denton’s EDP leads to overdevelopment, traffic and pollution. Overdevelopment for private gain without considering long-term negative consequences impacts Denton negatively.
The line between city officials and chamber officials who aren’t elected is blurred. Now that chamber officials have offices within the city, there’s no need to worry about the Texas Open Meetings Act, except at meetings, long after conversations about agenda items.
To be sure, the Denton Chamber of Commerce is important, but city staff fails to balance the chamber’s voice with the rest of the city. The city of Denton needs to reevaluate its relationship with the Chamber of Commerce.
Residents of Denton who pay taxes deserve a better voice.