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Chamber Leadership Prompts Resignations
Riverbank Chamber of Commerce President Anthony McKinney was at the Chamber booth during the Cheese and Wine Expo wearing a T-shirt promoting his candidacy for city council, which many former chamber directors point to as unethical. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

The Riverbank Chamber of Commerce is going through some growing pains and has seen some changes since former President Jerry Van Houten’s departure from the Chamber earlier this year. In light of the vacancy, Anthony McKinney stepped up to take on the role of President of the chamber and is also currently running to represent District 2 on the Riverbank City Council. He is running against Cindy Fosi in the upcoming election.

Since McKinney has become president of the chamber board, several chamber directors have resigned including Lana Clayton, Vena Pearson Hudgins and Jake Harless, to name a few, and most recently Rich Holmer.

In a letter of resignation submitted by Clayton to McKinney, other board members, and the city council she stated that she was resigning due to “lack of leadership” and “in my opinion, there has been a wholly unjustified handling of board members by our president. You do not treat people like you’re interviewing them when they come in with ideas to volunteer their time because they want to support their community.”

Clayton expressed that McKinney made a formal complaint against her husband to his place of employment stating he was using his job to promote a candidate running for office. Clayton states that this is not true and an attack on her husband because McKinney does not like her.

“Please know that my goal in this matter is to get our Chamber reorganized with Riverbank business owners who have the energy, moxy and fun loving dispositions that will encourage many others to join and prosper as well,” stated Clayton. “I know I can speak on behalf of my fellow friend (Pearson Hudgins) who resigned ... we want positive change and reorganization of the Riverbank Chamber.”

Clayton resigned on May 31 after only being a director for a short time and Pearson Hudgins followed suit shortly after.

“I went in being very optimistic,” stated Pearson Hudgins. “This is a non-paid position and I was excited to promote and encourage business.

“I love this city. In the four months I was there we did ribbon cuttings and brought excitement to the chamber and the city.”

But she also was not pleased with McKinney’s handling of the president’s post.

“He runs a dictatorship,” she said.

Pearson Hudgins brought a potential new member to a chamber meeting where she stated that McKinney was extremely rude to the visitor and he completely dismissed her. She also expressed that during a discussion while several members were giving their opinion on a topic she decided to give hers as well and he told her that they did not have time for her opinion.

“I love our community and the people who work hard to improve it – including those currently serving on the volunteer board,” added former director Harless. “Unfortunately, under the leadership of Anthony McKinney, eight Directors have resigned in the past 10 months.

“I’ll let that speak for itself.”

The eight directors that Harless mentioned are the following: Van Houten, Pearson Hudgins, Keenon Krick, himself, Clayton, Marlene Champlin, Steven Ames, and Holmer.

“Moving forward, the Chamber has made great strides to bridge a good working relationship with our community,” added Harless. “Under new leadership, I hope that can continue.”

The most recent resignation was from Holmer on Monday, Oct. 10 who stated in his letter, ‘I cannot support the President’s self-serving political message or his campaigning at the C&W (Cheese and Wine) Expo. Any message should have been expounding the virtues of measure L. The Chamber is not supporting any candidate for the second district. I cannot condone this and therefore am resigning from the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce. A formal letter will be forthcoming.’

“I hung on because I wanted to see us get some new board members and get through this,” said Holmer. “But (what) I began to see was that Anthony was using the Chamber for his own political gains. The ethical thing would be for Anthony to step down since he is not following the by-laws.”

The final straw for Holmer, he said, was during the Cheese and Wine festival to see McKinney in a T-shirt promoting his candidacy while manning the Chamber booth. There was also a report that McKinney stepped on one of the community stages during the festival and gave a five minute speech on his candidacy.

McKinney did not return phone calls or e-mails to The News by press time seeking comment for this article. Chamber vice-president and finance director Darlene Barber-Martinez, who continues to serve on the panel, declined to comment on the situation.

The Chamber Corner submitted by McKinney to The Riverbank News was published on Oct. 12 and addressed the upcoming election and also featured Cheese and Wine coverage.

Holmer cited concerns with the page, believing McKinney used it as a political platform for the District 2 race.

According to former Board of Directors members, it is against the Chamber by-laws to use the chamber for personal political gains.