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Chamber lets go of its marketing coordinator

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By David Giuliani

The local chamber of commerce let go its marketing coordinator last week — a decision that is angering some members.

The board of directors unanimously voted against renewing the contract for Vince Howell, who has served as the coordinator since September 2008.

This week, Howell called the action “retribution through association.”

Matt Martinez, president of the Las Vegas-San Miguel Chamber of Commerce, said the contract was too pricey.

“We want to get the best bang for the buck,” he said.

Howell’s contract listed his annual compensation at $32,000.

Martinez also said the board was troubled because it seemed as if Howell didn’t report to anybody, including the chamber’s director, Diane Ortiz. He said the chamber wasn’t sure what type of relationship it had with Howell.

“We’re trying to get better control of the position. It wasn’t anything personal,” he said.

Martinez said he was sure some would be “making a bunch of noise” about the decision, but he contended the board was looking out for the best interests of the chamber’s membership.

However, Howell said Martinez didn’t like his associations with Wid Slick, the owner of the Plaza Hotel, and other organizations that are helping bring tourists to Las Vegas.

“I want the community to know that the chamber, with the leadership of Matt Martinez, has been very negative toward the collaboration (of groups),” Howell said.

Slick said he had been Howell’s direct supervisor when he was on the chamber’s board and head of the chamber’s marketing committee, as stated in the contract. But he said the contract should have been changed to a different supervisor when he left the chamber late last year.

Slick said no one from the chamber had asked him about the situation.

“I feel that Vince did an amazing job for his first year, given the circumstances under which he was working,” said Slick, who has been at odds with Martinez and the chamber’s board over advertising strategy.

Slick credited Howell with producing the chamber’s first visitors guide in four years and bringing conventions to town, which he said had long been a chamber responsibility but didn’t happen until Howell came aboard.

In recent months, Howell said his work has resulted in bringing three major conventions to town in coming years — the New Mexico Association of Counties, the New Mexico Fraternal Order of Police and the New Mexico Board of Realtors.

Each event is expected to bring hundreds of people to town for nights at a time, drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in business, Howell said. For instance, the 2012 counties convention is slated to attract 700 people to Las Vegas for at least two nights, he said.

Martinez acknowledged Howell’s work in getting the conventions.

“He did some really good work for us. He wasn’t the only one doing the work. There were other people,” he said.

In recent months, Howell said his relations with Martinez had become rocky. That was the result of letters from Slick to Martinez, Howell said. In one of those letters, Slick warned Martinez that he would go public about his differences with the board on adverting in a state tourist publication.

According to Howell’s documentation, Martinez said in an Aug. 26 staff meeting that he had received a threatening letter from Slick. He then told Howell he didn’t have confidence in him and that Howell had been disloyal toward the chamber, Howell’s meeting recap states.

Martinez also reportedly told Howell that it seemed as if he were working for Slick.

In an Oct. 21 meeting with Martinez and Dave Romero, a chamber board member and a local attorney, Romero said he wanted to recommend Howell’s termination because of a trust issue. Romero reportedly said he didn’t have any issues with Howell’s performance.

Romero asked about Howell’s practice of documenting meetings, according to Howell’s recap. “It seems like you want to take legal action,” Romero reportedly observed.

Romero said he preferred that Howell not recap the Oct. 21 meeting, according to Howell’s documentation.

Martinez disagreed with Howell’s documentation of the August and October meetings. He said he didn’t discourage Howell from working with Slick or anyone in the community.

“I don’t know what all this other stuff he (Howell) is talking about,” Martinez said.

Romero couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.

Slick isn’t the only hotel owner opposed to the chamber’s decision. Krutik Bhakta, co-owner of the local Best Western, said he was disappointed with the situation. He said he got more involved with the chamber after Howell joined the staff.

“He got a lot of people involved. Everyone was doing their own thing before; that was the problem,” he said.

“Vince was bringing everyone together.”