The Las Vegas/San Miguel Chamber of Commerce has become a divisive organization. And since its name, the Chamber of Commerce, is widely recognized as a contact point for people who live elsewhere but seek to do business in Las Vegas, we fear more harm than good comes from its standing in the community.
The straw that’s breaking our editorial back is the latest brouhaha over some $40,000 in state funding to boost tourism in the area — money that’s not going to come to Las Vegas because the chamber lobbied against it. Matt Martinez, chamber president, and Gerald Baca, an attorney hired by the chamber, both raised concerns about the grant application to state Tourism Department officials, who apparently decided it’s best not to dole out such money to a divided community.
“Sabotage” is the word at least one alliance member used to describe Martinez’s efforts, and given the evidence, that seems a fitting description.
In October, a meeting was held with alliance and chamber members in which, according to county Commissioner Nick Leger and others at the meeting, Martinez agreed to join a collaborative effort to apply for the funds. However, documentation from the Tourism Department shows, it wasn’t long before Martinez was raising questions about Plaza Hotel owner Wid Slick’s business relationship with Gallinas LLC, which the collaborative was planning to use for marketing the city to potential tourists via the Internet.
In his defense, Martinez said it was “an illegal application” then referred questions to Executive Director Lavinia Fenzi. She too suggested the application was illegally prepared, adding that the “chamber represents the entire city and county and not just one hotel, one street or one part of town.”
That may be correct in theory, but it’s not so in practice. The chamber tends to be secretive, ineffective and obstinate, and while it gets city and county money to promote business in Las Vegas and San Miguel County, we see little if anything being done.
This isn’t an isolated situation. Martinez has butted heads with Slick before.
Remember how Martinez terminated Vince Howell’s contract with the chamber a couple years ago, essentially because Howell was trying to work with Slick and others in marketing our town.
Las Vegas First, MainStreet de Las Vegas, the Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce: It’s amazing how many organizations are working to boost our local economy, and yet our local economy remains stagnant. One might blame that on several factors, not the least of which is the community’s propensity toward division, but one big reason is glaring out at us right now: a lack of unifying leadership at the chamber. The chamber is doing little to better the community, but a lot to pull us even farther apart.
It’s time to overhaul the chamber and its work. The city and the county, as its primary funding source, are capable of applying the pressure necessary to force some serious changes. For the good of the business community, it can’t happen too soon.