Visit Dallas Leader Survives City Hall Showdown

Changes promised in oversight of Visit Dallas

The embattled leader of Dallas convention and visitor agency "Visit Dallas" survived a city hall showdown Tuesday with city council members who were angry about a critical audit of his agency.

Visit Dallas CEO Phillip Jones is paid around $700,000 a year.

Among other things, the first ever audit of the agency found Jones exceeded his own agency's travel expense guidelines with high-priced limos and hotel rooms. Jones also billed the agency for a $543 backpack.

Each year, Visit Dallas receives around $30 million in hotel tax money from the city to market Dallas and book the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

The audit found weak city oversight of that money and also questioned Visit Dallas performance claims.

After the audit was released last month, councilman Scott Griggs said Jones should be fired.

Griggs was ready with tough questions Tuesday at a specially called meeting to review the audit and corrective actions being taken.

"I'm very concerned about the compensation Mr. Jones, your compensation," Griggs said.

Visit Dallas operates with a 55-member board of directors, which Jones said oversees everything at the agency.

Griggs said the board is too large, and too little reform is taking place.

Griggs and councilman Philip Kingston tried unsuccessfully to get the committee to recommend terminating the city contract with Visit Dallas.

Kingston said it should be put out for competitive bidding, which city staff said has never happened on this issue.

"When we don't pick winners and don't shield our friends, we wind up with a better outcome," Kingston said.

Other council members on the government performance committee were willing to let city and Visit Dallas officials demonstrate they are making changes.

"There's a lot of suggested corrective action and we need to be sure we pursue them," council member Sandy Greyson said.

Greyson said she would wait to see the next progress report, due in May.

"This is an unfortunate situation. However, I think this is a teachable moment. And if I were sitting on the other side where you are sitting, I would embrace that," councilman Kevin Felder said.

Jones declined interview requests after the meeting, deferring to Visit Dallas board chairperson-elect Joyce Williams.

She said Visit Dallas is embracing the opportunity to make changes and that it welcomed the city's audit.

"Basically, we are working collaboratively with the city to insure that our policies remain transparent," Williams said.

She defended Jones' salary as commensurate with a top 10 tourism destination.

Last month, Jones said he reimbursed the agency for the backpack and that agency expense guidelines were increased to accommodate the expensive destinations he had visited to lure business to Dallas.

The apparent result Tuesday is that Jones keeps his job and the city of Dallas will keep closer watch on Visit Dallas.

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