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September 22, 2020

Chamber board chair resigns

Rich Firato: ‘My time has come, my time has gone’

The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce lost its third board member in less than a week, as Board Chair Rich Firato resigned from the organization Sept. 2.

Firato—the owner of Firato Janitorial Services—served on the chamber board for 10 years, including the last six years as the chair. He said his resignation is unrelated to a majority board vote on Aug. 31 that removed two other members for making offensive comments on social media.

Rather, Firato said with the Covid-19 pandemic halting the chamber’s entertainment and fundraising programs he enjoys most—and where he thinks his skills are best suited for the organization—the rest of the board should move on without him.

“My time has come, my time has gone,” Firato said about his resignation. “Things change, and we need somebody new at the helm.”

In recent years, Firato has been a major force behind the growth and increasing popularity of the chamber’s Friday Night Music Series. Before the pandemic put an end to public gatherings, Firato became a fixture of the FNMS at the Downtown Amphitheater, spending all afternoon and evening at the venue every Friday during the summers to produce the event with a crew of volunteers.

“I’m like a dinosaur without the Friday Night Music Series,” Firato said.

Following Firato’s resignation, the chamber board promoted member Armando Garcia to chair, chamber CEO Brittney Sherman said.

Garcia has been on the chamber board since 2018. He works as president of Dicar Networks and On Target Achievement—both based in Morgan Hill.

“His background in Executive Sales Management, operations, business coaching and leadership experience have greatly contributed to the chamber organization,” reads a Sept. 4 email from chamber staff to the organization’s members.

The email said of Firato’s resignation, “We will forever be grateful for your leadership, unwavering support and countless volunteer hours in support of the Friday Night Music Series and Taste of Morgan Hill Festival.”

Firato’s janitorial company remains a member of the chamber. Firato said he plans to spend more time volunteering for the Poppy Jasper Film Festival.

Ousted member says removal ‘not right’

The chamber’s Sept. 4 email also includes more details about what led to the board’s Aug. 31 decision to remove two board members who had made “inappropriate and disrespectful” comments on social media.

The board has not named the two ousted board members, but the Times has learned they are Sunday Minnich and Dan Keith.

The chamber’s Sept. 4 email says the two board members were warned in July about their social media activity. Board members held a detailed discussion and review of the nonprofit organization’s bylaws at that time. Those on the board agreed that the ethics clause and removal clause in the bylaws covered future social media transgressions.

About three weeks later, the board learned that the same two members had posted further social media content that a community member described as “offensive and sexist,” reads the Sept. 4 email. The board’s executive committee recommended the two board members be removed, and notified the offending members.

The full board then met on Aug. 26 for a follow-up discussion that resulted in the adoption of a new Code of Ethics Document and Social Media Conduct Clause into the bylaws, states the chamber’s Sept. 4 email.

Board members left that meeting unsatisfied with “lack of action at the previous meeting,” the email says. Although the offending social media posts had been removed, word of the transgressions had spread to the public, including to a women’s equality group, according to chamber staff.

The board then held an emergency meeting Aug. 31, where Minnich and Keith—both refusing to resign—were given five minutes to convince the board not to remove them. The board discussed the matter in closed session, then took a majority vote to remove both members.

Both Minnich and Keith have said in different statements that their removal was an unjust “witch hunt” that was politically motivated.

“It’s not right. They’re hypocrites,” said Keith, who said he has heard and seen chamber board members make offensive political comments, in person and on social media.

He said the Facebook comment that led to his and Minnich’s ouster was a “joke” about Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and the board overreacted. “It was a running joke…completely taken out of context,” said Keith, who is the general manager of Rocca’s Market in San Martin. “They wanted us off the board because we don’t believe like they believe.”

He added that he is in talks with an attorney to see if he has any legal options to respond to what he called the chamber’s “discrimination” against him and Minnich.

“I’m sorry if I offended anybody, but I’m not sorry for having fun on Facebook,” Keith said. He ultimately agreed that the original social media post was “not very nice,” but the offended party could have addressed it on a more personal level.

In a Sept. 1 post on the Facebook group Morgan Hill Neighborhood Watch, Minnich identified herself as one of the chamber board members removed Aug. 31. “This was a smear campaign and even though the board said this had nothing to do with my political beliefs, I truly believe this was a witch hunt because of my political beliefs,” reads Minnich’s Sept. 1 post.

Firato, when asked about the two board members’ removal, declined to talk about the details. But, he said, “The chamber took the right stance on that. It’s an unfortunate thing that happened.”

The chamber’s Sept. 4 email adds, “The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce is neither pro-Democrat nor pro-Republican but will always be pro-business.”

CHAMBER BYLAWS

Chamber of Commerce CEO Brittney Sherman said board members agreed in July that the organization’s ethics clause and removal clause applied to recent comments that two members made on social media. The clauses read as follows: 

4.11 ETHICS CLAUSE: It is the policy of the Morgan Hill Chamber to conduct its business affairs fairly, impartially and in an ethical and proper manner. Conduct that may raise questions regarding the Chamber’s honesty, integrity, impartiality or reputation of activities that could cause embarrassment to the Chamber are prohibited. Board members must act in such a manner that reflects our standards in all Chamber-related activities, or does not compromise our relationships with our marketing partners.

5.1 REMOVAL: Any Director or Officer elected or appointed by the Board of Directors may be expelled or censured by a majority vote of the Board of Directors for conduct unbecoming a Director or prejudicial to the aims or reputation of the Chamber. No such expulsion or censure shall occur until a 10-day written notice and opportunity for a hearing are afforded the Director.

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