Lacey Boards Wrestle With Corporate Sponsorship Policy in Wake of Chick-fil-A Complaints


Lacey's equity commission and parks board came together Monday night to review the city's corporate sponsorship policy after residents complained about Chick-fil-A's role in a city-related event.

The Lacey Chick-fil-A sponsored city events in 2021 and 2022, but it was the sponsorship of Children's Day at Huntamer Park on Oct. 1 that angered some area residents. They were angry because of the company or its executives donating to causes that do not support the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Monday's meeting produced more questions than answers.

Lacey parks and recreation director Jen Burbidge teed up the conversation, saying the local Chick-fil-A owner came to the city, wanting his business to be the most caring in the county. He also shared the corporate responsibility strategy, saying the business wants to care for people through food, education and the planet by diverting food waste from landfills.

Equity commissioner Cliff Brown quizzed Burbidge on how deeply she explored the background of the business.

"Did you go into detail about their own policies or their statements on equity and diversity?

Burbidge said the city did have discussions about their diversity, equity and inclusion plan, and that the owner would be willing to share it.

The company says the right things, but also has been controversial, Brown said. Brown, who said he is from Mississippi, pointed out that Chick-fil-A, which is based in Atlanta, is a product of the Deep South, the Bible Belt, and has conservative views on abortion and LGBTQ rights.

"They have said as much and make no apologies for it," he said.

Other members of the meeting wrestled with the possible differences between the local owner and the past acts of the corporation or its executives.

Equity commissioner Kristine Stolberg wondered how much research goes into separating what the CEO might believe from what the local owner believes.

Parks board member Dave Weber pointed out that the owner of the San Francisco Giants has extreme right-wing views, but few in that community would reject the help of a major sports franchise.

"It's an interesting line," he said. "Are we going by the official corporate position of an entity or are we also going to look into what the stockholders believe as well?"

Parks board Chairman Aram Wheeler raised a similar question: If the local franchisee is doing the right thing by Lacey but the corporation is not, where do we draw the line?

"Regardless of the franchisee, it's the same logo that's portrayed to the public," said Equity commissioner Jon Hegwood, adding that when Chick-fil-A is attached to city events it is not welcoming.

Weber agreed, saying the franchisee shouldn't be left off the hook because it gets hard to question how they might differ from the corporate parent.

"That opens up a whole other can of worms," he said.

Hegwood also said Chick-fil-A's sponsorship might be more of a liability to the city than an asset.

At one point in the meeting they referred to a list of Chick-fil-A donations that were extensive, but didn't include any LGBTQ groups. Hegwood called it a "very glaring" oversight.

"Very safe and generic," said Hegwood about the overall list of company donations.

Chairman Wheeler made one of the few suggestions of the meeting: What if the equity commission or parks board were to approve the corporate sponsorship proposals?

Parks Director Burbidge said it could be discussed, although the parks department likes to conduct business a little faster because the two boards meet only monthly.

However, the parks director does have the discretion to seek advice from the parks board or other city advisory bodies, said Assistant City Manager Shannon Kelley-Fong.