The Odessa City Council will meet today with appointees overseeing tens of millions of taxpayer dollars as they consider whether to keep funding the struggling Odessa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which faces the prospect of losing its public support following the ouster of new leaders who sought reforms.
On March 8, the city’s Odessa Development Corporation unanimously voted to terminate the contract with the Hispanic Chamber after learning that CEO Price Arredondo had been fired and top ranking board members had been pushed out. The shake-up came just hours earlier as Arredondo was about to propose changes to the organization that would include ending public payments to the leader of a controversial effort to build business ties with Mexico.
But the City Council would have to ratify the ODC’s decision to cut off the public funds. It’s unclear whether a majority would agree to that as Hispanic Chamber officials prepare a new request for public funding.
Complicating matters are the accounts of the ousted leaders that District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales was one of the organization’s members who fired Arredondo, raising questions about the councilman inserting himself in a governing position in an organization that the City Council also funds.
For years, Gonzales has been a champion of the Hispanic Chamber’s “Mexico Initiative” and he is a close associate of the leader of the effort, Raymond Chavez, who collected a publicly funded salary of about $58,000 over the past six months. Since Chavez founded the Mexico Initiative in 2014, there’s been little documented progress of results such as new jobs or businesses created.
Even without City Council approval, Chavez’ publicly funded position is set to expire at the end of this month — unless council members and the ODC approve restoring it.
“That’s done, and whether it comes back or not, I have absolutely no idea,” ODC President Betsy Triplett-Hurt said.
Last summer, city and ODC officials agreed to fund Chavez for six months as a transition while the Hispanic Chamber found professional leadership.
“I haven’t seen anything in six months,” said Mayor David Turner, an early supporter of the Mexico Initiative who in recent months criticized poor management by the Hispanic Chamber and a struggle documenting results. “They’ve said basically you had six months, and we were going to reevaluate. I haven’t heard anything or seen anything.”
Chavez did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither did Gonzales or Ben Rubio, who was introduced as the new Hispanic Chamber CEO on March 8. Rubio, a former chair of the Hispanic Chamber and mentee of Chavez, had been appointed to his post earlier that day. He declined to explain the reasons behind the upheaval but promised to “in the coming weeks, days maybe.”
By Monday, Triplett-Hurt and Turner still said Hispanic Chamber officials had yet to explain the shake-up.
Arredondo’s proposal would have asked the ODC to replace Chavez’ paid position with a lower paid role focused on supporting Hispanic-businesses and working with another paid employee of the organization who already works in Chihuahua.
Arredondo said he had proposed changes within the organization that proved controversial such as revising the organization’s bylaws to prevent former board members such as Chavez’ family members from voting on the direction of the organization.
Ultimately, Arredondo said the people who voted to fire him included Chavez’ wife and granddaughter, along with allies including Rubio and former ODC board member Mario Contreras. Arredondo lived in Tyler and commuted to Odessa a few times a month with plans to serve as CEO of the Hispanic Chamber on a temporary basis.
Arredondo also said Chavez had resisted efforts to replace him and would not share information about the Mexico Initiative.
“Basically I’ve not gotten any cooperation from Raymond,” Arredondo told the OA the day he was fired.
Before the ODC moved to end Hispanic Chamber funding, Triplett-Hurt said the volunteer appointees on the board were “concerned about literally who is in charge and the monthly expenditures.”
“I didn’t know who had the checkbook,” she said Monday.
Public funds budgeted for the Hispanic Chamber this year totaled more than $305,000, paid in monthly installments. Of that money about $167,000 was dedicated to the Mexico Initiative.
Triplett-Hurt said the city began reviewing the Hispanic Chamber’s finances after the ODC meeting and that she believed there was “nothing nefarious.”
Turner also said he wanted to ensure the public money given to the Hispanic Chamber was accounted for and properly spent.
“That’s something I want an answer for,” Turner said.
- What: Joint meeting with the Odessa City Council and Odessa Development Corporation.
- When: 5 p.m. today.
- Where: City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St., in the third floor conference room.