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Chris Jones

Convention Authority Board: Much Hype, No Heat at Meeting

13 July 2005

R&R Advertising boss Billy Vassiliadis also asked to address the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board Tuesday, but chairman Oscar Goodman turned down his request.

Like heavy rain on the Fourth of July, concern over a continuing legal battle quickly dampened political fireworks some expected at Tuesday's Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board meeting.

And as a result, the agency's controversial decision to bolster a legal position by selling two key trademarks for just $1 will now be settled by a team of San Francisco attorneys that command fees of up to $575 per hour.

Board Chairman and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was one of many local tourism leaders who in recent weeks expressed concern over authority President Rossi Ralenkotter's November deal that transferred the rights to the phrases "What happens here, stays here" and "We work as hard as we play" from the tax-funded authority to R&R Partners, a privately owned Las Vegas advertising powerhouse.

Angered that board members were not told of the sale in advance, Goodman previously said he'd demand answers when the body reconvened for its scheduled July public meeting.

But after a recent visit to the Bay area offices of the law firm Morrison & Foerster, Goodman instead resurrected his long-dormant skills as a defense attorney at Tuesday's gathering.

"There will be no resolution of the issue today because there is litigation," Goodman explained. "There will be a full exposition in due course, after we have experts who are going to be assisting us look into the issue and report back to us. That exposition will take place sooner (rather) than later, you can be assured of that."

Goodman's fellow board members agreed, and none commented on the subject Tuesday.

Ralenkotter and R&R boss Billy Vassiliadis also asked to address the board Tuesday, but Goodman turned down their requests.

"I know that you want to be heard publicly, but this is not the time," Goodman said.

Authority leaders and their attorneys are concerned a public discussion of the $1 deal could affect a continuing legal battle between R&R and Dorothy Tovar, a California woman the company has accused of trademark infringement for selling T-shirts and other products adorned with the similar phrase "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

At the authority's request, R&R's attorneys in March 2004 sued Tovar in U.S. District Court in Reno. The company subsequently sought and received ownership of the associated trademarks, which it said was needed to press its case against Tovar.

This May, R&R sought to add the authority as a co-plaintiff, though a judge has not yet ruled on that motion. Should the request be granted, Morrison & Foerster would represent the authority in any subsequent legal proceedings.

Goodman and Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson, a board member who is also an attorney, last week flew to San Francisco to meet with attorneys from Morrison & Foerster.

After that meeting, the two agreed to bring the firm's hiring before the board for formal approval, as well as request the firm conduct an internal investigation of the $1 deal and future policies associated with the authority's intellectual property.

Goodman promised any findings would be aired in open meetings, but added such discussions cannot occur until after the case with Tovar is settled.

"We want to get this resolved quickly, we want to know what the facts are and we want the public to know the facts," Goodman said. "We intend to take whatever action is required to show that the authority, we who are elected and appointed to this authority, are good stewards of the public's assets."

In other business Tuesday, the convention authority board:

*Welcomed new board members Glenn Christenson, chief financial officer of Station Casinos; Kara Kelley, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce; and Mesquite Mayor Bill Nicholes. The two-year terms of six others previously on the board were also renewed in conjunction with the July 1 beginning of the authority's 2005-06 fiscal year.

* Approved a request to buy a small apartment complex at 486 Sierra Vista Drive, just south of the Las Vegas Convention Center, for $7.1 million. The 1.42-acre parcel will be cleared before it is turned over to the authority. It will be used for parking and additional access to the convention center's South Hall.