Following months of criticism, VisitDallas President and CEO Phillip Jones is out of a job, following what the organization is calling a "mutual decision." Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is expected to announce a new, interim CEO for the agency later this week.
Jones came under fire in January after the Dallas City Auditor's Office released a scathing report about VisitDallas' questionable spending and lack of transparency. The audit found that city staff failed to properly monitor how VisitDallas spent the $30 million in hotel occupancy tax and public improvement district cash it gets from the city each year. VisitDallas also failed to make the $500,000 payments it's supposed to make for capital improvements to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in a timely manner and didn't document how it creates the data that's in the monthly and yearly reports it gives to the city.
Jones, who makes $700,000 a year, also expensed a $543 Tumi backpack and spent more than $17,000 on 18 hotel stays, despite VisitDallas rules limiting hotel reimbursement to $180 a night in all cities except New York, where the reimbursement can be $250 per night.
Mark Woelffer, VisitDallas' board chair, thanked Jones for his "great career" at the agency.
“We are proud of the work VisitDallas has accomplished during Phillip’s tenure to promote Dallas, which is now a top 10 destination nationally for meetings, conventions, sporting events and leisure travel. As Phillip has decided to pursue other opportunities, we wish him the very best,” Woelffer said in a press release.
Jones patted himself on the back for raising Dallas' profile.
"It has been a privilege to lead VisitDallas during an important period of growth for the organization and now it’s time for my next challenge,” Jones said. “Together with my colleagues at VisitDallas, the city of Dallas and partners across the hospitality and tourism industry, we have positioned Dallas as the top visitor destination in Texas for meetings and events, and one of the top convention and visitor destinations in the nation. I’m proud of our accomplishments and know the organization is on track for continued success.”
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Dallas mayoral candidate Scott Griggs, who helped lead the charge against Jones on the City Council, tweeted Thursday afternoon that the CEO's departure was "good for Dallas."
Council member Philip Kingston, who joined Griggs' criticism of VisitDallas, said the organization still needs a major overhaul.
"It's a great start even if it's months overdue. It does nothing to change the structural problems with VD. Dallas needs a frank, public discussion about what its goals are for advertising and promoting the city and what metrics will justify the budget we set for those activities. Then we should translate those goals into a specific RFP (request for proposal) and take competitive bids," Kingston told the Observer. "No part of that process should delay us from terminating the VD contract today. We do not yet know what works in this business, but we very clearly have seen that VD doesn't. Why would we keep funding it?"