Request for House Cleaning at VisitDallas After Scathing Audit

CEO defends the agency

A Dallas City Council member Wednesday demanded replacement of VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones in the wake of a critical city audit of the tourism agency.

Councilman Scott Griggs said he was not satisfied with answers Jones provided publicly Wednesday for the first time since the audit was released Friday.

"I'm completely unsatisfied, this is a scathing audit," Griggs said. "It is really an indictment of how they do business over at VisitDallas and how they are misusing scarce taxpayer resources, and to me it is unacceptable. We really need to have a housecleaning over at VisitDallas."

Jones said the agency welcomed additional oversight and took the findings seriously, but that most of them were directed at city procedures and not specifically at the tourism agency.

"I'm proud to stand here and stand by the great work VisitDallas does each and every day," Jones, who makes $700,000 per year from VisitDallas, said.

He was surrounded at a press conference by agency board members who said he has done a good job boosting hotel bookings in Dallas.

Board chairman Mark Woelffer is also the general manager of the Downtown Dallas Sheraton Hotel.

"Please know that the entire VisitDallas organization is committed to full transparency and fiscal responsibility when it comes to use and application of public dollars," Woelffer said.

The audit found Jones billed the agency for transportation, lodging and meals that exceeded the agency's guidelines.

Jones said all of the expenses were approved by board members and that some of the lodging guidelines were too low for the expensive cities he visited to get convention business.

"I did not 'willy-nilly' go out and stay in these hotels and charge them to the city of Dallas or citizens of Dallas," Jones said. "We have since updated the policy to include new limits so it is reflective of the market."

Jones said a $543 backpack he charged to the agency was a mistake that should have been billed to American Airlines for lost luggage.

"As soon as it was brought to my attention, I wrote a personal check to cover the cost of the backpack. It's just a simple clerical error. It's not a pattern of abuse. It's certainly not something that I have done on a regular basis. This was the only instance something like this has ever occurred."

Griggs disagreed.

"We're seeing mistake after mistake over there," he said. "I think the citizens of the city of Dallas deserve a house cleaning."

Other city council members are waiting to hear more from Jones directly. A special meeting is scheduled on Feb. 19.

"We want to get some more answers. We want to get some more information," council member Sandy Greyson said. "We definitely want to follow up as a council and we want to talk with them about the results of this audit. Things will change. We need to have more oversight."

Jones replaced another CEO at the agency in 2003 who was forced out over expenses charged at topless clubs.

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