KINGSBURG - Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors held a special closed meeting on July 17 to discuss the matter of request for removal of treasurer Debbie Singh Forbes.

After hours of discussion and debate, the board didn't take any action against Forbes. According to a statement, the board unanimously decided that it was not a matter for them to decide upon. 

Board members said it was a “personal matter of misunderstanding, misconstrued statements, and information taken out of context that needs to be discussed between the involved parties.

“The board has taken it upon themselves, while this is out of our scope, to see that mediation takes place at our expense between the involved parties. Additionally, we recognize that professional communication is something we could all be better at.”

A meeting was scheduled for July 14 to discuss the issue, but was postponed due to Gov. Gavin Newsom's closure of indoor actives because of rising COVID-19 reports and hospitalizations.  

The Central Valley Allies for Change, a local advocacy group, requested Forbes' removal after a social media post was published wherein the treasurer said she "takes zero offense" to racial slurs aimed towards Mexicans. Forbes was not present during the meeting at the Chamber’s request. No members of the Central Valley Allies for Change were present at the meeting.

In the post, Forbes discusses a conversation she had with a customer at her auto body shop and how that person used the derogatory term, adding that she "adores" the "funny" man. 

Forbes stated in the since-deleted post that “Some folks may say I should corrected him or brought it to his attention that word ‘wetback’ has a negative connotations or that it is horrible...or whatever you want to call it.”

Later in the post, Forbes said she “took zero offense” with her customers' words and added, “Did he generalize? Yes of course. We all do it.”

The board said that the Chamber will provide "professional training" at a future date for their entire board and employees. Board officials added that training will be available to the public and other members.

“We, the board, also will have our by-laws amended to include language that forbids unprofessional communication and conduct in all public outlets by our board members."

Board members said they couldn't comment on an apology from Forbes and added that a forced apology from them “holds no merit.” The board said that she must be sincere and willing to apologize for her comments.

“We do not approve of any hateful or insensitive speech by any of our board, members, or our community,”  the board said. “Anyone’s personal statement is just that, personal; and does not reflect the views of the chamber or the community regardless of the view point. We have a deeper issues in our communities that cannot be solved by a simple termination and apology, that is only a temporary solution, rather we need to come together at the table and have a conversation. Conversations lead to understanding that lead to education and ultimately build a better community where offense doesn’t take place.”

“Lastly, professional organizations must have a face and representation. We cannot field complaints regarding our board members, or members without a person willing to represent that complaint.”

The statement said a “simple request from a media outlet does not substantiate a personal complaint.”

“That is not saying that Central Valley Allies for Change is not willing to have in person conversations, but as of right now they have not come forward with representation."

Officials ends the statement, saying “As professionals there is no desire or place for retaliation or ill will in these circumstances, but we feel everyone has a right to face their accuser because relationships and peace cannot be restored without personal conversations.

“While the issue of racism is a long road in our world today, opportunities to have constructive conversations need to continue if we want to move further down that road.”

Kingsburg City Council released a statement on July 22 regarding its stance and condemnation of racism and inequality after the Chamber’s decision.

“As community leaders, we understand that the nation is in upheaval over recent injustices that have occurred throughout the country. Kingsburg is not immune to that unrest and we support those utilizing their constitutional rights to speak out against racism and inequalities everywhere. Kingsburg is a diverse and multiracial community. It is all our jobs to promote equality and to raise up our community.”

The council reiterated its stance on social issues, particularly bringing up the Kingsburg Unity in the Park rally  at Memorial Park on June 5. The rally was held in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, who died after former Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

City Council members, staff and the Kingsburg Police Department all participated in the unity event and members from the council and police department made statements during the rally about fighting injustice and racism. According to the council’s statement, Kingsburg Police Chief Neil Dadian worked closely with the organizers of the event to ensure it was held peacefully.

Dadian, Mayor Michelle Roman, Mayor Pro Tem Laura North spoke at the event while Councilmembers Sherman Dix, Jewel Hurtado and City Manager Alex Henderson also attended.

“We know all lives matter can’t matter until black lives matter,” Roman said at the event. “Humanity matters. Decency matters and as a city, we raise that up as part of our values. This is a time for unity.”

The statement didn’t mention Forbes, but the council asked that “Kingsburg citizens do their part to lessen the divide that already exists,” and said that hateful comments online “do nothing to further the conversation or build relationships with your neighbors.”

“We ask you to think carefully before posting messages online.”

Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at (559) 583-2413 or Follow Jeremiah on Twitter at @TheJerryMartin. 

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