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Decision on chamber audit delayed

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By David Giuliani

A dispute between two local business groups made its way to the City Council last week.

At Councilman Andrew Feldman’s request, the council discussed a possible performance and fiscal audit of the Las Vegas-San Miguel Chamber of Commerce. He has said that he had heard about “serious problems” at the chamber, but he hasn’t said what they were.

However, the chamber’s president and a top city official responded that no one has brought concerns about the group to them.

The chamber gets some $200,000 a year in lodgers tax funds to promote the community and its events. That’s money the Las Vegas First Independent Business Alliance, a new business group, says it wants to get, arguing that the chamber is not doing a good enough job.

Fights over the lodgers tax money — collected from customers at local motels — aren’t new. In the mid-1980s, the chamber and the now-defunct Hispano Chamber of Commerce got in a public battle over the funds.

At a recent Lodgers Tax Advisory Board meeting, Las Vegas First contended that the chamber doesn’t have the staff to conduct an effective marketing program. Many of its members are angry over the chamber’s dismissal of its marketing coordinator, Vince Howell, in November.

The chamber’s president, Matt Martinez, has argued that the $32,000 contract with Howell was “too pricey.” But Howell’s supporters argue that he got caught in the crossfire in a dispute over advertising strategy between Martinez and Plaza Hotel owner Wid Slick, a Howell backer.

Slick and others have touted Howell’s work in bringing major state conference for the next couple of years.

During the council meeting, Feldman suggested the council delay consideration of an audit. He requested that the city administration give a copy of the city’s contract with the chamber to every council member.

He said his interest in an audit isn’t personal, adding that constituents and businesses have brought their concerns to him.

Councilman Morris Madrid said he was prepared to discuss the chamber, but he said it was only fair to have representatives of the chamber and its opposition available to speak.

“People should go to the city manager first, not the media,” he said. “(City Manager Timothy) Dodge is a good listener. That’s his best talent.”

He asked Martinez, who was in the audience, if people had brought their concerns to the chamber board.

Martinez said no one had, saying he knew about the concerns only through what he had read in the newspaper.

City Manager Timothy Dodge said Elmer Martinez, the city’s community development director, was the employee who monitored the chamber contract. Dodge said no one had brought any concerns to him.

Councilman Cruz Roybal said people should go through the proper channels at the city to get their concerns addressed.  He said the council often talks about not getting directly involved in such issues.

But Feldman said he had followed proper channels, saying that he brought the issue to the council, which approves contracts.

He promised to compile the information he had received from people opposed to the chamber and give copies to the council.