VisitDallas Outlines Response To City Audit

Steven Pickering
May 16, 2019 - 6:12 am
Dallas City Hall, Downtown Dallas

Credit: Kirkikis/Getty Images

DALLAS (1080 KRLD) - Officials with the group that works to bring visitors and conventions to Dallas met with officials at City Hall on Wednesday to offer details about their actions since a critical audit.

The City Auditor found that the City did not have methods in place to appropriately monitor the expenses of VisitDallas, which received from the hotel-occupancy tax. The audit was also critical of the city's methods for measuring whether the group achieved its goals of attracting new visitors and boosting the city's economy.

City staffers have recommended a formal procedure for documenting expenses and reviewing monthly financial reports. They also suggest a new procedure for determining whether VisitDallas is meeting the goals established in its contract with the city, along with hiring an outside group to review those policies.

The CEO and Chief Financial Officer of Visit Dallas recently stepped down. Interim CEO Sam Coats told the Council on Wednesday that the group was making progress in many of the areas identified by the audit.

"We're going to get a new CEO, we're going to get a new CFO...and we're going to put those metrics in place," Coats said. "We're fiduciaries. We owe that to the city, we owe it to the hotel community and the hospitality community."

Some Council members said they liked the progress the group was making, but wanted to see additional changes. "I don't think we got here by VisitDallas alone," said Council Member Kevin Felder. "The City did not exact proper oversight over VisitDallas." Felder called on the group to make some other structural changes. "I'd like to see the board pared down, 55 people is way too many - I'd like to see that cut down to about 25. I'd like to see a comprehensive staff review to make sure we're not overstaffed...and to make sure that the salaries are not excessive."

Other Council Members were not convinced the group would be able to make sufficient changes to restore confidence inside City Hall. "You could tell us that within a matter of months you will go from being an organization that had some severe problems to the perfect organization," said Council Member Philip Kingston, "but I believe that it is our fiduciary duty to test that against competitive bidding in this market." He called for the City to put the contract with VisitDallas up for bids by other organizations. "It is not a call to blow up VisitDallas," he said. "It is a call to give VisitDallas to earn its services back."

But Council Member Rickey Callahan argued for giving VisitDallas time to implement its new procedures. "It would be foolish to start over," he said, "and suggest that the City of Dallas...or by going out on a competitive bid process...and try and replicate the work that VisitDallas has been doing and will do in the future. What we really need is a strong, viable, active visitors bureau...but let's just be careful that we don't throw the baby out with the bath water in the process."

The Council did not take any action on the contract with VisitDallas, which expires in September of 2020. "This is an opportunity," said Council Member Kevin Felder. "Either they perform now and 2020 or they face the consequences of losing the contract."