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Utah Democratic Party asks Latino outreach coordinator to resign

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 5:25 p.m. MDT

Melodia Gutierrez and other staff members of the democratic party talk during a meeting at the party headquarters in Salt Lake City Tuesday, September 11, 2012.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Democratic Party's Latino outreach coordinator claims she was not given the chance to improve before being asked to step down.

Melodia Gutierrez said she was asked to resign from her "dream job" as the party's Latino outreach coordinator earlier this week.

The position was created about a year ago when Gutierrez was hired. In her resignation letter, she detailed her duties, including keeping Latinos politically involved in non-election years and building support within the Latino community.

Gutierrez said she was told her work was not in concert with that of the Utah Democratic Party. When she asked for an "opportunity for growth and direction, along with clear objectives to improve," Gutierrez said Matt Lyon, the party's executive director, told her he felt it was best that they "part ways."

Gutierrez did not return calls or messages from the Deseret News on Thursday.

"It's an uncomfortable situation for everyone," Lyon said, adding that he was not "comfortable" discussing the details.

Letting Gutierrez go came down to a personnel decision, said Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis.

When pressed for details, Dabakis explained that personnel issues involve relationships between employers and employees and that it would be "tacky" to say more about the reasons Gutierrez was let go.

Officials made the decision they felt was the best for the future of the party, Dabakis said.

A job posting for Latino outreach coordinator will be posted on the Utah Democratic Party website in the near future, party officials said. The party also is creating a Latino outreach director position.

The Utah Democratic Party is looking for someone to get more voters registered and people involved in politics in Utah, Lyon said.

The party also is trying to make this a smooth transition for Gutierrez, he said, and will try to help her find a new position.

Lyon said he meets with every employee in the office once a week to see how he can best support them. This meeting includes a review of performance metrics that each employee submits.

In her letter of resignation, Gutierrez suggested that the Latino outreach coordinator request assistance with developing metrics.

Lyon said the state party will continue to work with leaders and stakeholders in the Hispanic community to see what it can do to improve and continue to benefit the community.

He said the party is "passionate" about the outreach coordinator position and will attempt to find someone who will continue with Gutierrez's efforts.

Gutierrez's resignation was met with disappointment by some, including Nate Salazar, chairman of the Salt Lake County Hispanic Democratic Caucus, who emailed his regrets and a resignation letter from Gutierrez to local media outlets Thursday.

"She has a great reputation in our community," Salazar told the Deseret News.

Gutierrez was appointed at an "interesting time" in both the state and national Democratic Party, Salazar said, including what he said was alienation from the party that many in the Latino community were feeling.

Gutierrez had begun to bridge the "disconnect," he said.

"She's the type of leader that definitely makes you feel like you're welcome," Salazar said.

Among Gutierrez's accomplishments were reaching out to Spanish-language television and news stations and creating a Weber County Latino caucus.

Senate Minority Caucus Manager Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said she was not aware of the letter or of the personnel shift but that creating strong ties with the Latino community is a "critical component" of either party's success.

"The party better be committed," Robles said.

She underscored the need for the party to find out what went wrong in this situation and improve upon it. The Democratic Party has been "more responsive" to Latinos in the past, she said, and Latinos have reciprocated with their voting patterns.

House Minority Assistant Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, said she could not speak to the resignation but that she has received nothing but support from Gutierrez in her political interactions.

Chavez-Houck also said believes the party continues to be dedicated to reaching out to Latinos and that the personnel change is not an "indication that commitment is flagging."

Despite the difficulty of the situation, she said, it's an opportunity for party leadership to meet with Latino constituents and continue their attempts at "authentic inclusion" of the population.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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