The Utah Democratic Party on Thursday forced out its first-ever Latino outreach director — who says the party is mistreating her and is not following its own declared vision of diversity and inclusiveness.
"It was a completely blind-side, forced resignation. I’m the second woman of color they let go unceremoniously. ... There were only two women of color in the office," said Melodia Gutierrez, who worked as the Latino outreach director for the past year.
"I feel so betrayed. I really cared about these people. I’m shocked," she said. "They don’t practice what they preach."
She said Matt Lyon, the party’s executive director, told her that her work did not match the vision of the state party. She said she asked for an opportunity to improve and match that vision but said he replied that it was best that they part ways.
She said she was never given specific goals or direction but feels she did a good job in creating an outreach program from scratch. It included a voter registration drive built around the push for immigration reform, creating the party’s first ads on Spanish TV, establishing a Weber County Latino Caucus and organizing a Diversity Day at the Legislature.
She said Lyon emailed her a statement Thursday morning that he wanted her to endorse saying she was leaving for personal and family reasons. Instead, she wrote a letter of resignation to party leaders saying Lyon asked for it — which was sent to the media by an upset Salt Lake County Hispanic Caucus Chairman Nate Salazar.
Lyon told The Tribune it would be inappropriate to go into detail about personnel decisions. He said the other "woman of color" Gutierrez referred to, a black woman, was "not let go" and "was a temporary employee" who left because the position did not pay as much as she sought.
"We are going to rehire the position" of Latino outreach director, Lyon added. "It’s an important role."
Salazar said he is upset, in part, because the outreach position was created with the "idea that community caucuses and leaders from the Latino community would help out with the evaluation process." He said that did not happen.
"I wasn’t contacted about this decision. Melodia has a really great reputation in our community," he said. "So it’s disheartening. ... I feel like it’s a lack of democratic process."
Gutierrez said she feels the Democratic Party is still the best place for Latinos to place their political trust.
"I think that the Democratic Party in large shares the values of the Latino community. We need to grow from this situation and take it as a challenge to make the party better and more inclusive," she said.
"We don’t want to make this a bitter situation, we want to make it a better situation. We want to push for fair hiring and firing practices in the party and not give unilateral power to one human being to hire and fire at will taking advantage of the right to work laws in Utah," she said.
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