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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Tourism Head Could Leave with Higher Benefits

7 May 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Outgoing boss Manny Cortez joked earlier this week that he's spent the past few years simply trying to stay out of the way of his colleagues at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Come next week, that agency could provide Cortez with a cash-padded cushion to ease the 65-year-old executive's pending full-time transition to the sidelines.

The convention authority's three-member compensation committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a proposed $79,977 severance gift that would raise Cortez's annual retirement benefits by more than $4,200 per year.

Mark Olson, the convention authority's vice president of human resources, said Thursday a special compensation committee meeting has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. At that time, committee members Jim Gibson, Donald "Pat" Shalmy and Tony Santo are expected to formally accept Cortez's announced resignation following nearly 13 years' service as the tourism board's president and chief executive officer.

Olson has also recommended that the committee consider paying for the severance package, which he said would equate to nine months' worth of contributions to Cortez's Public Employees' Retirement System account.

"Manny will leave us with 35 years and three months' experience as a government employee," including Cortez's past experience with the Clark County Commission and other local government agencies, Olson said. "My recommendation is that the convention authority make a contribution (to the state retirement fund) so that he'll collect the benefits of a full 36-year employee in recognition of a job-well-done during his 35 years of contributions to this destination."

If Olson's proposal is successful, Cortez would be eligible to collect 90 percent of his average base salary measured over the highest paying 36-month period of his tenure. He earns a base salary of $243,360, up from $234,000 a year ago and $221,957 for 2001.

Taken at 90 percent, Olson said Cortez would earn retirement benefits worth about $219,000 per year. Without the added nine-month credit, Cortez stands to earn a maximum of approximately $214,800 per year, Olson said.

Holly Zimmerman, who works with the state retirement system, said it's common for workers or their employers to purchase added service time to increase their subsequent benefits. Still, she said the practice is also "very expensive."

The convention authority's budget is financed through portions of a 9 percent tax collected from visitors who stay in hotels, motels or other lodgings in Clark County. The agency is charged with luring leisure and business travelers to Southern Nevada.

Gibson, the mayor of Henderson, and Santo, an executive with Caesars Entertainment, were traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Shalmy, who is president of Nevada Power Co., did not return a message left with that company's public relations office.

Olson said the compensation committee will also discuss plans on Thursday to name Cortez's successor. Though Olson said he has no knowledge of what the committee might decide, a second source close to the situation said the committee will likely recommend that longtime executive Rossi Ralenkotter be named the authority's new president and chief executive officer.

The full convention authority board was previously scheduled to meet May 20 for an annual budget meeting, and Olson said its members could at that time make a decision to promote Ralenkotter should the committee make a favorable recommendation.

Ralenkotter is the convention authority's executive vice president, making him the quasigovernment agency's second-highest ranking official behind Cortez. Following the authority's recent adoption of an executive succession plan, Ralenkotter has over the past few months gained experience taking on some duties once handled largely by Cortez.

Cortez, who said earlier this week he'll leave the authority on July 2, has publicly recommended Ralenkotter as his successor. Ralenkotter this week also expressed interest in taking the position over once Cortez steps down.

The full board will next meet on Tuesday. That day's agenda was amended to include a discussion item on Cortez's resignation, albeit for information and discussion purposes only.