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Three of the San Diego Convention Center Corp.’s top officials have laid the groundwork to leave the organization less than a month after the City Council stripped control of a major part of center operations away from their agency.
Carol Wallace, the corporation’s CEO for the past 20 years, has asked the center’s board to consider terminating her contract and has hired an attorney, according to a letter obtained by voiceofsandiego.org. Theresa McAteer, the corporation’s general counsel, said in a separate letter to the board that she is ending her firm’s engagement. And Steven Johnson, a vice president and the corporation’s spokesman, is having his position eliminated at the end of the year.
Last month, Wallace objected to a flurry of last-minute decisions to switch the center’s sales and marketing from her public agency to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, or ConVis, a private tourism promotion organization.
The move was widely seen as a sop to the city’s hoteliers, who are in the process of voting on an estimated $1 billion tax increase to finance the Convention Center expansion. By switching the sales and marketing to ConVis, hoteliers have greater control over center operations.
“Recent actions by the Board of Directors in general and (board member) Stephen Cushman specifically, lead me to believe that a number of Board members desire to make a change in the leadership of the corporation,” Wallace wrote in her letter dated April 6.
Cushman is Mayor Jerry Sanders’ point man on the Convention Center expansion.
Wallace said she was willing to remain with the center through next summer to assist in the marketing switch. She noted in her letter, however, that she has hired an employment attorney to represent her.
“She indicated in the letter there were some issues going on so she wanted the board to know she had hired legal counsel to represent her,” said Johnson, the spokesman.
McAteer, an outside attorney, did not give a reason for her departure in her resignation letter. But she appeared skeptical of the sales and marketing switch in a memo to board members before their decision to give the duties to Convis.
Johnson, whose official title is vice president of public affairs, said he’ll be leaving at the end of June.
“My responsibilities will diminish so it didn’t make sense to keep this position,” he said.
Twelve additional Convention Center Corp. sales and marketing employees will be laid off, Johnson said. He added that he expected all of them to be candidates for jobs at ConVis.
Wallace, McAteer, Cushman and Convention Center Board Chairwoman Nikki Clay all could not immediately be reached for comment.
Wallace is well-known both locally and throughout the country in the convention and meeting industry. In January, the U.S. Commerce Department named her to a national tourism advisory board. At the time, Sanders was effusive in his praise of her center management.
“Ms. Wallace is an expert in both domestic and international travel and tourism related to the convention industry, and San Diego is fortunate to have her at the helm of our extremely successful convention facility. She’s been instrumental in attracting many of the industry’s most lucrative conventions that have placed San Diego in the international spotlight including Comic-Con International,” Sanders said in a press release. “She will be an enormous asset to the board.”
Clarification: The original version of this story said Wallace was resigning her position because of how we interpreted her letter. She issued a statement Tuesday saying she hadn’t resigned and emphasizing that she’d asked the board to review terminating her contract. We’ve updated this story and have published a follow-up.