The success hasn’t come without controversy.
The Los Angeles Times once called Telacu “the Eastside equivalent of Boss Tweed” because of its ties to politicans who steer public construction projects to the organization. L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, state Sen. Richard Polanco and former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alatorre were all elected after they’d worked at Telacu.
Federal investigations have uncovered fraud and mismanagement at Telacu, and in some cases the organization has had to return money. Critics have questioned its non-profit status. Hispanic Business magazine estimated Lizarraga’s net worth in 2002 at $86 million – a relatively high number for the leader of a non-profit.
Since assuming the chairmanship of the Hispanic chamber, Lizarraga has formed a procurement council and a corporate council to pursue the group’s goals of steering more contracting dollars to Hispanic businesses. He also started a Latina Summit event, signed a partnership with the National Minority Supplier Development Council to get more companies certified as minority-owned and spearheaded a lobbying effort to get more Hispanics on corporate boards.
But his critics said the results have fallen short.
“The national Hispanic chamber exists to help moms and pops get business and they have lost that with this chairman,” Flores said. “It breaks my heart because I put in six years of volunteer work with this organization.”
The current controversy has an element of irony. In October 2002, Lizarraga was barred from running for a seat on the Hispanic chamber board. As a result, he organized protests at the organization’s national convention in Los Angeles.
At the time, Lizarraga gathered other dissidents and organized the Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce for Fairness and Inclusion, which successfully advocated election reform. Lizarraga then won a seat on the board the following year; he became chairman in 2004.
“When this administration took over, they emphasized the importance of inclusion, transparency and solidarity,” J.R. Gonzales, a communications company executive in Austin, Texas, who is the previous national Hispanic chamber chairman, told the Denver Post at the September convention. “Since then, the organizational model has changed and there is some concern and question as to why it was necessary to change.”
Packing the board
The most controversial move in Lizarraga’s tenure came in 2007 when it was decided that board members would be appointed instead of elected. Flores said that has allowed Lizarraga to pack the board with his allies and friends. He also said that change discouraged chambers from sending delegates to the convention.
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