North Texas

Shake Up at Dallas Tourism Agency

Interim CEO at Visit Dallas is Sam Coats

A shake up at the tourism agency Visit Dallas put an interim Chief Executive Officer in place Thursday to fill the shoes of 15 year CEO Philip Jones who stepped down Wednesday.

It comes after an audit by the City of Dallas in January questioned Jones travel expenses and oversight of the $30 million in hotel taxes the agency receives each year.

The money is supposed to help promote the region, book the Dallas Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and help hotels fill rooms.

Mark Woeffler, the Chairman of the Visit Dallas Board who is also General Manager of the Downtown Dallas Sheraton Hotel, said board members carefully reviewed the audit.

"I can guarantee as the Board Chair, that Philip Jones did no wrong, and it was a mutually agreed upon separation," Woeffler said.

A second executive, the Chief Financial Officer, has also left Visit Dallas. Woeffler declined to explain that departure, saying it is a confidential personnel matter.

The Interim CEO named Thursday is Sam Coats, a long time Dallas civic leader with experience in the aviation industry, tourism and business turn arounds.

"The last one was Schlotzsky's and it was a broken company. This is not a broken organization. This has an outstanding professional staff," Coats said.

Mayor Mike Rawlings said Visit Dallas made excellent progress on booking hotel rooms under Jones leadership but changes were needed.

"I asked the Board Chair and the Board to get serious about taking this to the next level. They responded," Rawlings said.

The Mayor still wants a reduction in the size of the 50 member Visit Dallas Board. He said the audit pointed out weaknesses in City oversight of the agency that City Council Members will be discussing at a meeting next week.

"What is the job of the city staff of making sure that Visit Dallas is doing what they are saying," Rawlings said.

Some Dallas City Council Members have said the city contract with Visit Dallas should be canceled, but Rawlings said the agency has strong employees and he prefers to see the current arrangement improved.

"That's how you get to excellence. Not by blowing something up. If we destroy those jobs, it would hurt the hoteliers in this city. And shame on those for even thinking about that," Rawlings said.

Woeffler, the Sheraton General Manager, agreed.

"Without Visit Dallas, the hotel community will not survive," Woeffler said. "We need a strong, vibrant organization. And that's why we're relying on Sam Coats to transition us to a new CEO."

Coats said he hopes it will be a short transition.

"My wife has already said that I'm a little bit crazy for doing this, but I'm proud to be here. I believe in this. It's important to Dallas. It's important to North Texas."

Coats is also a former Board Chairman of the agency. He said his first priorities as Interim CEO will be to find a new CFO and launch a nationwide CEO search.

Jones was paid around $700,000 a year. He will be paid $600,000 as severance over the next year.

Rawlings said Visit Dallas should pay what is necessary to attract the best person to fill the job.

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