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Silicon Valley Organization Resists Calls For Dissolution After Internal Investigation Into Racist Political Ad

SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- The South Bay's largest chamber of commerce has released the preliminary findings of an internal investigation, to determine how a racist political attack ad was published to the main website of the Silicon Valley Organization.

At a press conference at San Jose City Hall, board member Kevin Surace outlined four key findings from the third party investigator. The investigator had access to SVO's "full records with no interference," and found:

  • No evidence of intent to post racist material or stoke racial divisions
  • Lack of communication, and breakdown in process
  • Ad published without proper review/approval
  • Not approved by management

"Saying we are sorry will never be enough. But it is a small start in a long process ahead," said Surace.

The ad was posted to the Silicon Valley Organization's main website on October 26 9- a photo of black protestors on a tear-gas filled street, and the tagline 'Do you really want to sign on to this?' -- in reference to a city council candidate who supported police reform.

Surace did not identify any employees, reveal how many people were involved, whether they were directly employed by SV PAC or a third-party company, their employment status, or details about the violation of the approval process. After community complaints began pouring in, former CEO Matt Mahood ordered the ad taken down and then resigned.

According to Surace, the findings revealed Mahood had no knowledge of the posting of the ad.

Dozens of charities, non-profits, and faith leaders, as well as more than 50 elected officials gathered in the subsequent days to condemn SVO, and demand board members and leadership step down.

The SVO PAC has since been dissolved, board members will undergo sensitivity training, and Tuesday Surace announced the formation of a diversity and inclusion advisory committee to help coordinate meetings with community members.

"Our board and staff must sit with communities of color and hear firsthand what damage has been done to our community from this, and earlier PAC activity," said Surace.

Surace said four percent of the 1,200 members had rescinded their membership. Surace resisted calls to disband the SVO, since it would harm the work of the organization's other three arms, the Chamber, Foundation and SV Forum.

"It's important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, right? Let's accelerate the good things, and try to clamp down on any issues that we've had and get to the community, and learn more about those issues so that we can clamp them down to zero. But don't throw all this goodness out," said Surace.

Darlene Tenes, a longtime SVO member, is one of the few minorities who have agreed to serve on the advisory committee.

"I'd like to think that they're just clueless, rather than racist," said Tenes. "This should have been done a long time ago. They're doing it now because this photo came out that people called out as racism, because of the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything that's happening in the world today."

Tenes reflected on calls for the entire SVO leadership to step down.

"I don't think that they can clean house completely, but boy, they needed to sweep out the stink and bring in an air freshener. I do think the chamber is fixable, but it's going to take a long time and won't happen overnight," said Tenes.

Larry Stone, Santa Clara County Tax Assessor, said SVO needed an "overhaul", and penned an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News titled, "SVO Must Be Dismantled In Its Entirety."

"The political activities in this last campaign by the SVO were just reprehensible. It was right out of the playbook of Donald Trump," said Stone. "They need to demonstrate to the business community, to the public, and to political candidates that they're a totally different organization. I don't think the steps they're proposing to do does that completely."

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