VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones is stepping down. The organization’s Board of Directors and Jones came to a mutual decision on Tuesday, VisitDallas says in a release. They’ll announce a fill-in replacement at a presser on Thursday, and the Board has already begun a search for a long-term CEO.
The VisitDallas saga began five months ago, when the Office of the City Auditor released a 73-page audit casting the convention and visitor’s bureau in an awful light. VisitDallas had been commingling its two main city revenue sources, the hotel occupancy tax and its funding from the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District. That’s against state law. And then there was hardly any tracking of what was going on; there were no real metrics in place that could allow the city to determine whether VisitDallas was effectively spending its public dollars.
Not surprisingly, the man atop the organization, Jones, looked worst of all. VisitDallas was expensing the hell out of everything with little paper trail. The auditor verbiage was that it “does not have adequate controls over certain expenses.” Jones’ Tumi backpack jumped off the page, but there were more serious questions about, among other things, his traveling habits. And then, with Jones’ nearly $700,000 salary laid bare, you could easily pair that with the lack of accountability and say: how in the world do we know this guy’s worth it? Too, he was taking loans from the organization to help pay for medical treatments for his son. State law bars nonprofits from loaning money to its officers for reasons that are not related to the agency’s operations. VisitDallas has said that Jones paid all of it back late last year.
The board has decided he is not worth it. Or, rather, the board has mutually decided with Jones that he isn’t. VisitDallas board chair Mark Woelffer had this to say in a statement:
“The Board is thankful to Phillip for his 15 years of leadership and great career at VisitDallas. We are proud of the work VisitDallas has accomplished during Phillip’s tenure to promote Dallas, which is now a top ten destination nationally for meetings, conventions, sporting events and leisure travel. As Phillip has decided to pursue other opportunities, we wish him the very best.”
And here’s Jones’ statement:
“It has been a privilege to lead VisitDallas during an important period of growth for the organization and now it’s time for my next challenge. Together with my colleagues at VisitDallas, the City of Dallas and partners across the hospitality and tourism industry, we have positioned Dallas as the top visitor destination in Texas for meetings and events, and one of the top convention and visitor destinations in the nation. I’m proud of our accomplishments and know the organization is on track for continued success.”
In February, a City Council committee decided VisitDallas could stick around. Councilman Philip Kingston made a motion to cut ties with the organization, but only Councilman Scott Griggs, his battering mate and mayoral candidate, went for the idea. That vote doesn’t mean the end of Council discussion on the topic.
The mayoral race probably kept VisitDallas’ woes in the news cycle longer than they’d liked. It became a frequent question at the dozens of forums, including one that analyzed whether the city should be sending more of its money to arts organizations. And now, Griggs, one of the two mayoral candidates left in the runoff, would like to see Dallas axe VisitDallas. It’ll be interesting to see how the rhetoric around the organization takes shape over the next month. The election is on June 8.