City may put grips on Fiestas

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By David Giuliani

The city of Las Vegas is proposing greater controls over the Fiesta Council, a group mired in controversy over the last few months.

Last week, city officials presented a proposed contract between the city and the council that would require the group to provide a 2010 financial report and have the mayor appoint a third of the council’s membership.

In another provision, the council would give 2009 Fiesta Queen Carmela Montoya her full scholarship and issue a statement saying that issues involving her should have been handled in a more professional manner.

Fiesta Council President Mathew Martinez didn’t return a message for comment last week. He is the only one permitted to speak on behalf of the council. But he has maintained a policy of not speaking with the Optic, saying the newspaper’s coverage of Fiesta Council issues has been unfair.

He and other members have defended their actions, saying criticism of their group has been misguided.

Elmer Martinez, the city’s community development director, said the proposed contract is “a work in progress” and is based on comments from the community.

City officials met with Fiesta Council members last week at City Hall.
“It was a very positive meeting. The city’s proposed agreement was positively received,” Martinez said.

He said the agreement would be in effect through July 15, a couple of weeks past the next Fiestas.

City Councilman Andrew Feldman said the proposed contract was a “good start,” adding the city had to settle the issues in a short time frame.

“I’m confident that we will,” he said.

He said that if the Fiesta Council satisfied the agreement’s terms, the city would likely step back after the contract expired.

City Councilwoman Diane Moore said she hoped the Fiesta Council would work with the proposed contract.

Shortly after the Fiestas ended in July, six of the group’s 18 Fiesta Council members found out that Martinez, the president, had removed them. Martinez maintained that they had conspired to undermine him.

The Fiesta Council had other problems as well. The group botched the 2010 event schedule, forgot to ask the city for the annual monetary donation and turned in a late event permit to the city.
Martinez said at the time that the six ousted members became a distraction, causing the mistakes.

The council also has been embroiled in a high-profile dispute with Montoya, the former queen. Members said she missed events, but she said she didn’t show for some functions because of her sick grandfather, who raised her. He later died. She said she missed other appearances because of the council’s communication problems.

The council halved her $500 scholarship and later refused to let her speak in her defense during a meeting. Some council members have suggested that she violated the rules by keeping her crown, an assertion that Montoya has disputed.

Councilwoman Moore has publicly supported Montoya, and a couple of weeks ago, Mayor Alfonso Ortiz also criticized the Fiesta Council’s handling of its issues with the queen.

Under the proposed agreement, the costs of entertainment headliners at the Fiestas would be shared between the group and the private venues where they perform during the festivities.

That provision is likely in response to allegations that Martinez has used his role at the Fiestas to benefit his nightclub, Night Owl. Some of the six members ousted from the council argued that Martinez had a conflict of interest, alleging that he has brought in performers to the Fiestas and also got them to play at Night Owl.
Martinez has said there was no conflict.

The proposed contract calls for the city to have “complete financial oversight” of the 2011 Fiestas and give the city’s designee on the council veto authority, after consultation with the city administration, on any matters that have a financial or business impact on the city.

The proposal would give preference to local entertainers at the annual Fiestas. It also bars the council from having any members outside of San Miguel County; currently, there are at least two members from Santa Fe — something the mayor has repeatedly criticized.

One provision in the draft contract has since been omitted, officials said. It had called for the the Fiesta Council to make a “genuine effort” to recruit back the members who were removed this year.

The Fiesta Council has been an independent group for years. But the city provides many services — such as public works, solid waste, police and fire — at the Fiestas. Three years ago, the city tabulated its annual costs at $114,000 for the festivities.

The events all take place on city property — Plaza Park and Bridge Street.

The City Council may take up the proposed contract in November, officials said.