Once Again, It's Time to Clean House at VisitDallas

As I read the recent news about the problems surrounding VisitDallas, I thought about Yogi Berra's famous quote: "It's déjà vu all over again." Let me explain.Each year, VisitDallas receives an average of $29 million from hotel occupancy taxes and Dallas tourism public improvement district funds. In early January, the Dallas city auditor's office issued its unfavorable audit on VisitDallas's oversight, performance and expenditures. Among other shortcomings, they found:VisitDallas did not make a timely $500,000 annual payment, which is required, to the city.VisitDallas' policies and procedures for reported metrics were not documented and assurance of the reported metrics was inadequate.VisitDallas did not have adequate controls over employee expenses, resulting in the chief executive paying excessive amounts for hotel rooms, meals, gifts, ground transportation and expensing a $543 Tumi backpack.VisitDallas commingled funds for the hotel occupancy tax and for the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District, in violation of the Texas tax code.Now, flash back to the fall of 2002 when I was the incoming chairman of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, the previous name for VisitDallas. Shortly thereafter, there was robust media coverage about activities that took place before I became the chairman, including questions about the then chief executive's travel and entertainment expenses. Having served on the DCVB board when I was on the Dallas City Council, I knew that we had to move quickly to be transparent and accountable.In 2003, working with the board and convention and visitors bureau staff, we updated the policies and procedures on travel and entertainment expenses, voluntarily reduced the supplemental marketing loan from the city, added additional oversight in the DCVB's policies and procedures, initiated an audit of the the bureau's business expenses, and revised the budget to recognize the post-9/11 economic climate.And after those changes, I personally negotiated the departure of the then chief executive. And then I resigned, even though the underlying events occurred before I became the chairman, to allow a fresh start. However, I remained on the board to ensure that these serious and meaningful reforms were implemented to restore any wavering confidence.  Continue reading...

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