Dallas council member didn’t disclose repeated use of VisitDallas events suite

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Dallas City Council member Casey Thomas failed to disclose six events he attended since 2016 using the VisitDallas suite at the American Airlines Center, according to records obtained by The Texas Monitor.

Council members are required to annually disclose gifts of over $50 they have received from any person or entity that has a contract with the city.

VisitDallas, formerly the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, has a $30 million service contract with the city, composed primarily of revenue earned from hotel occupancy taxes.

Thomas, according to records, attended six events at the American Airlines Center in the VisitDallas suite, for which the convention group pays $250,000 annually.

Those events include concerts by Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, Sam Smith and Bruno Mars, a basketball exhibition and a December appearance by Michelle Obama.

Tickets for each of those events exceeded the $50 minimum required for disclosure. Mars, for example, charged $591 for a top seat during his 2018 tour.

Although the annual gift disclosure filed by Thomas did not mention the American Airlines Center events, it did include other perks he received from VisitDallas. He reported receiving two tickets to the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament from VisitDallas in May 2018, worth $300 each, and an $85 polo shirt in 2017.

Thomas did not respond to a phone message or text requesting comment. His office did not respond to an email.

Thomas, a former school teacher, was among the majority of council members who earlier this year voiced support for continuing the contract with VisitDallas, despite a critical city audit released at the start of the year. He was elected to a third two-year term in May with 69 percent of the vote.

Suites at American Airlines Center include catering, parking, and concierge service. VisitDallas says the suites, accommodating 12 people or more, are used to show off the city.

In a statement given this week to D Magazine, which obtained a list of suite visitors, VisitDallas said the suite is a “great way to show an amazing venue in action.”

The city in 2009 passed reporting guidelines requiring that council members reveal gifts or honorariums valued at over $50 from entities or persons with an interest in contracts with the city that would require a council vote.

The policy was clarified in 2017, to state that a member may not accept more than two tickets to an event.

Financial disclosure information is required to be filed in April.

“This is $50,000 worth of tickets,” said former city council member Scott Griggs, who was a leading critic of VisitDallas. “These should have been reported.”

Failures to report gifts are considered ethics violations, requiring a written complaint before any investigation is done.  The city’s ethics commission meets quarterly to review those complaints and, if warranted, launches investigations.

The city’s ethics officer, Michelle Ranum, did not return a call seeking comment.

VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones resigned in May after a series of news reports raised questions about his expenses. That followed a city audit released in January, reporting that the agency provided murky, debatable data on hotel occupancy and other key measures of its performance.

The audit also found that VisitDallas mixed its revenue sources without proper accounting, in violation of state law, and failed to make a required annual payment for maintenance of the city’s convention center.

Thomas was among the supporters of VisitDallas as the council debated the agency’s future. He voted to continue the contract and to retain Jones, who was found in the audit to have used his expense account to buy personal items, including a $543 Tumi backpack. Jones also received reimbursement for $7,000 in what he declared as gifts, although he failed to provide information on who received the gifts, as required by VisitDallas policy.

Auditors also found Jones used a car service while traveling, when Uber or cabs were available, and routinely exceeded per diem limits on hotels and meals.

During city committee hearings after the audit, Jones said tickets to the American Airlines Center suite are “available to customers and city council members if they request them.”

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

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