VisitDallas names interim CEO to replace Phillip Jones

Four months after a highly critical audit, there is a new interim CEO in charge of VisitDallas, an organization that receives $30 million in tax dollars each year to recruit convention business.

We have also learned that the former CEO is receiving $600,000 in severance pay. An amount that the chair says they negotiated down, since Phillip Jones still had four years left on his contract.

Sam Coats, the new man temporarily in charge of VisitDallas, has a record of turning companies around.

“The last one was Schlotzsky's. It was a broken company. This is not a broken organization,” Coats said. 

But it is an organization that was under fire while under former CEO, Phillip Jones, and CFO, Matt Jones.

MORE: VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones stepping down after audit finds oversight and accountability problems

“There were very much issues at VisitDallas with fraud, waste, and abuse,” Dallas Councilman Scott Griggs said.

Griggs, who is in a runoff race for mayor, was among the first to call for Jones' resignation after an audit found that numbers used by the organization to justify its existence, along with Jones’ $700,000 salary, could be inaccurate.

The audit also found issues with Jones's expenses that were above policy limits, along with $7,000 in gifts without proper documentation, and even reimbursement for a $543 Tumi backpack.

“It was time for these gentlemen to leave the organization,” Griggs said.

Mike Rawlings, who was the chair of VisitDallas before he was elected mayor, says one of the problems with the tax dollar funded non-profit is its unwieldly 50-member board.

[REPORTER: “Did you ask for Jones to resign?”] “No, I did not. I asked the board chair, and the board to get serious about taking this organization to the next level. They responded,” Rawlings replied.

What led to the CFO's departure is less clear.

[REPORTER: “Did the CFO resign or was he terminated?”] “That's a personnel matter and I can't comment on that,” VisitDallas Chair Mark Woelffer said.

[REPORTER: “Was there any wrongdoing on his part?] “No,” Woelffer replied.

Coats says one of his first priorities is to get the city to renew the VisitDallas contract about a year early, in order to attract a permanent CEO.

“If there is uncertainty out there, why would someone of that caliber come if there is still a question mark? We can go to the city and hopefully get it done working with the city council, and whoever the new mayor is,” Coats said.

And whoever the next CEO is, Dallas is counting on them in a big way.

“Without VisitDallas, the hotel community will not survive,” Woelffer said.

Mayor Rawlings said VisitDallas leaders have assured him that in six months, there will be a proposal for a new governance structure for the board to vote on.

Whether or not the next CEO will also rake in a $700,000 salary, will be decided by the VisitDallas Board.