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No reason given for Garza’s departure

November 11, 2017

Odessa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Garza resigned from his taxpayer funded position as the head of the organization leading the city’s long troubled effort aimed at building business ties with Mexico.

Garza did not respond to requests for comment. His tenure was marked by political turbulence and the Hispanic chamber’s ongoing struggle to substantiate the public return on the taxpayer money the organization receives.

Raymond Chavez, the paid manager of the city’s “Mexico Initiative” effort, declined to comment on the reason for Garza’s departure. District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales, an ardent defender of the program who has a long running affiliation with the Hispanic chamber, did not respond to a request for comment.

In June, Garza accused the mayor and other city leaders of “discrimination” and “sabotaging our projects” among other unsupported allegations in a lengthy error strewn email sent to the city attorney.

Garza would also lash out at the city’s economic development board that funds the Hispanic chamber in August, but he succeeded in securing continued funding for the organization that includes a paid position for Chavez.

The taxpayer funded portion of Garza’s salary amounted to more than $60,000 in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, not including perks such as an auto allowance. A news release from the Hispanic chamber stated Garza announced his resignation on Oct. 28.

“Over the next couple of months, we will examine this role and the necessity to replace this position,” the release stated. “ . . . During this transition period, it is our priority to find the best individual to lead our cause, while maintaining a stable and effective organization. Lastly, we cannot thank Mike enough for his dedication, passion, and enthusiasm over the past 3 years.”

This year the Hispanic chamber received a total of about $305,000, not including marketing funds budgeted through another agency or any other city expenses in support of the Mexico Initiative.

In 2011, the ODC slashed the Hispanic chamber’s budget amid concerns of poor performance and commingled funds, and the Mexico Initiative would prove a lifeline for the organization.

The board of the Odessa Development Corporation, which oversees the city’s economic development sales tax fund, is scheduled to review the Mexico Initiative and Chavez’ position in the spring. Chavez is being paid $58,000 by the city for six months of work.

During Garza’s tenure, the Odessa City Council removed one of the city appointees tasked with overseeing the program, ODC chair Jimmy Breaux, in May.

In September, the City Council fired the City Manager. And Gonzales, one of the three council members who formed a majority to oust Richard Morton, cited the Hispanic chamber in his arguments for Morton’s removal.

“How many times have you gone into Larry’s office and griped him out for trying to help the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and telling him to let them fail,” Gonzales said, referring to City Attorney Larry Long.

Morton denied it, but Long, who for months met privately with Hispanic chamber officials and offered counsel, supported Gonzales, saying “He was complaining about my involvement. Yes.”

The Hispanic chamber responded to a request for comment with the news release touting Garza’s accomplishments but not explaining his resignation.

The release, attributed to board members Chris Arredondo and Sandra Ramirez, said Garza “helped support and move forward” the Mexico Initiative, “increased the membership” of the Hispanic chamber, started an event providing breakfast to teachers along with other events at the school district’s alternative education center, and “increased the funds from 2014 to 2017 by 400%”

Public money makes up the majority of the Hispanic chamber’s budget.

Garza replaced Joe Montoya as CEO of the Hispanic chamber. Montoya, who quit in October 2015, and cited micromanagement by board members including Chavez and a shift in focus away from small business development to the Mexico initiative.

“Eventually, there was almost nothing left but the Mexico Initiative,” Montoya told the Odessa American back then. “And the organization of the chamber is not just there for the Mexico Initiative, but it should be there for all the members as well as the community. There are people in the organization that are really focused on the vision. An organization can have all the focus on the vision that they want, but the strongest in the organization are going to get their way, and it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks.”