Idaho Dispatch

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Controversy Over Planned Caldwell Mayoral Candidate Forum?

By • October 14, 2021

Update: The following email was sent to Idaho Dispatch from Jerry Summers, the Executive Director of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce:

Mr. Pruett,

Thank you for your emails last night. The information requested required research prior to any response. The Caldwell Chamber of Commerce was established in 1897 and has interacted with community members over the years, some of which have sought public office. As well, the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce has always made it a practice to utilize local business people with a priority on current members for their own business needs.

The focus of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce is to be a catalyst for business, as such, the candidate’s forum is meant to provide information to the business community and public about each candidate’s vision and policy positions for the City of Caldwell.

At one time, The McGee Group rendered some services to the Chamber, however, that relationship has been dormant since 2015. The chamber has not been a client of the McGee Group since. Hence, we do not believe there to be any kind of current conflict of interest. The McGee Group has been a member of the Chamber since January 2021.

Several candidates are courtesy members of the Chamber of Commerce by virtue of the City of Caldwell being an active member of the chamber, as follows:

City Council Member – Mike Pollard
City Council Member – Dennis Callsen
City Council Member – John McGee
City Council Member – Jarom Wagoner
City Council Member – Rob Hopper
Chuck Stadick – as primary contact for Caldwell Veterans Memorial Hall
No other candidates are currently associated with the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce. . We would encourage candidates who are not members of the chamber to consider joining the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce to support local businesses. Chamber members represent a variety of political positions and views. Having chamber members who are private citizens donate to a particular candidate’s campaign does not represent any position of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce. The position of the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce is to focus on policy related questions. If a particular candidate or the general public wishes to a cover other issues of one or more of the candidates, they are free to do so.

Original story below.

Next week, the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce will hold a forum for mayoral candidates.

After two decades, the city of Caldwell is getting a new mayor with the retirement of Mayor Garrett Nancolas. It’s common practice for city chambers of commerce, private organizations, to hold public forums for city council and mayoral candidates.

With the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce scheduled to hold an online forum next week, the organization’s alleged ties to one of the candidates are being called into question by some citizens in Caldwell.

A total of five candidates are running to be mayor of Caldwell: Jarom Wagoner, John McGee, Chris Trakel, Nicole Hyland, and Jorge Arancivia

Councilman John McGee, one of the candidates, was elected to the Caldwell City Council in 2019.

McGee runs a private company called “The McGee Group.” The company is a “Public Relations and Marketing” company according to their website.

On McGee’s company website is a list of some of their clients. One of the clients listed is the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce, the private group conducting the candidate forum next week.

Image screenshot from The McGee Group website.

The concern with some citizens who Idaho Dispatch spoke with or received communication from was how the Caldwell Chamber can conduct the debate when they are a current client for one of the candidates. The citizens we spoke with felt that, at the very least, the Caldwell Chamber should have disclosed to all candidates before the forum that McGee had financial benefits from the Caldwell Chamber and asked them if they were okay with the forum moving forward.

Idaho Dispatch has reached out to the Caldwell Chamber to ask if they have disclosed the ties to McGee’s company and if they felt it was a conflict of interest or if they are disputing being a client of McGee’s. We have not received any reply from the Caldwell Chamber at this time.

Additionally, Idaho Dispatch tried to find any public statement online where the Chamber of Commerce had disclosed its ties to McGee’s company or denied that they are or were a client but could not locate one.

Silverhawk Realty is another company listed on The McGee group’s site. One of the board members for the Caldwell Chamber is James Barrett. Barrett has also donated to McGee’s mayoral campaign.

Currently, no other forums are scheduled for the mayoral candidates other than the one put on by the Caldwell Chamber.

This is not the first time controversy surrounded candidate forums in Caldwell. In 2019, the Caldwell Chamber also put on a candidate forum. Then, shortly after the Caldwell chamber candidate forum, several citizens of Caldwell put on their own forum where it appears McGee and one other candidate did not attend but all other candidates did.

Some of the Caldwell citizens, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, told Idaho Dispatch they believe McGee does not want to face questions about his past criminal activity when he was a State Senator.

For the forum next week, candidates were asked to submit questions but told that personal questions were not allowed.

Here is the email that the Executive Director for the Caldwell Chamber, Jerry Summers, sent to all mayoral and city council candidates:

Dear Candidates,

I have received some questions from one of the candidates for the upcoming forum. If any of you would like to submit questions for the forum, please feel free to do so to I would ask that the questions be policy related questions and to abstain from personal questions. (Emphasis by Idaho Dispatch.) If you have more than one question please prioritize in order of importance. We will endeavor to cover all of the questions submitted from candidates and the public.

In our email to Summers, Idaho Dispatch asked whether or not he felt that a candidate’s past actions were off-limits for a candidate forum.

In addition to our email to Summers, Idaho Dispatch has also asked McGee about the Caldwell Chamber being one of his clients. McGee has not responded at the time of this writing.

Idaho Dispatch also sent the other four mayoral candidates a request for comment on The McGee Group listing the Caldwell Chamber as a client. Trakel was the only candidate to respond, and he strongly criticized the Caldwell Chamber.

Here is what Trakel sent Idaho Dispatch:

Caldwell’s Chamber of Commerce has once again failed to disclose its relationship with John McGee. The Chamber of Commerce has been clients of his marketing company and have a clear conflict of interest. I know this has been going on since at least 2019 when I brought this topic up. During their question and answer session in 2019 the moderator talked about his relationship with McGee in college giving McGee praise and extra attention amongst his opponents, which I was not. McGee was also given the final word. The current election is protecting McGee again. There are to be no questions allowed that may bring to attention McGee’s past sexual predation, grand theft, or DUI. It is disguised as,”…that the questions be policy related questions and to abstain from personal questions.” This is a clear reference to protect McGee. This is a dishonest way to keep residents informed; our past actions are part of what define us today.

The Caldwell Chamber candidate forum is currently scheduled for October 20th at 6:00 p.m. and can be viewed on the City of Caldwell’s YouTube channel.

Do you believe there is a conflict of interest if the Caldwell Chamber, conducting the candidate forum, is a personal client of McGee’s?

Let us know what you think in the comment below.

Tags: Caldwell Chamber of Commerce, Chris Trakel, Jarom Wagoner, Jerry Summers, John McGee, Jorge Arancivia, Nicole Hyland, The McGee Group