VisitDallas officials defend spending after audit raises questions

Leaders with VisitDallas met with city officials Tuesday to try to defend their use of hotel tax dollars.

The meetings come days after FOX4 first reported about an audit that called the organization to task for potentially misrepresenting performance data and improperly using tax money.

Phillip Jones, the CEO of VisitDallas who earns $700,000 a year, will likely have a lot of explaining to do in the coming weeks if he wants to keep his job.

He proudly told city council members last march his organization increased revenue from the hotel occupancy tax by 42 percent in five years. Now Jones will need to address questions about his agency's spending.

“We want to make sure they are spending the money appropriately, and we are getting a return on investment,” said councilman Lee Kleinman.

One of the audit's major findings: the "citywide event" numbers that VisitDallas uses to justify the hotel occupancy tax could be inaccurate. Kleinman is on the committee that oversees the organization.

“If they aren't selling as many of those events as they say they are, that's a concern,” Kleinman said.

A spokesman for VisitDallas said the organization plans to address questions Wednesday afternoon and that jones was in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The audit took issue with his expense reports, finding hotel prices "above policy limits."

It found $7,041 in gifts lacked "documentation of who the gift items were given to" and one expense highlighted was a $543 Tumi backpack.

 “Definitely criticisms of executive director of spending on personal items, meals when he's not with clients,” Kleinman said. “I think we have to pay better attention to that.”

Kleinman now wants the city council to have better oversight of the VisitDallas budget and procedures to validate how well the agency says it is doing.

“Oversight’s on us, we kind of failed in that area,” Kleinman said.

The contract for VisitDallas is up next year, so the city may also decide to see if there is another organization able to do the job better.

A special meeting about the audit is being scheduled for next month.