New questions produce new mysteries about VisitDallas

0

The former chief financial officer for Dallas’ convention and visitors bureau was fired with no severance in May, yet Matthew Jones’ dismissal was at the time portrayed as a resignation.

That resignation was revealed only after The Texas Monitor requested records related to his severance pay.

“Mr. Jones did not have a departure agreement,” Stephanie Faulk, a spokeswoman for VisitDallas, as the convention bureau is now called, told Texas Monitor in an emailed response to the request. “His final pay was determined in accordance with Visit Dallas’s standard policy for all terminated employees.”

Matthew Jones left at the same time that VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones announced his resignation. He received a $600,000 severance payment.

Together, Phillip Jones and Matthew Jones (no relation) were paid over $1 million a year, with the CEO at $700,000 and the CFO at $388,000.

At the time, then-Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates told reporters that Matthew Jones had resigned and that the departures were unrelated.

The full reasons for the removal of the two leaders of VisitDallas continue to be a mystery.

“I did not know he was fired,” said Dallas City Council member Jennifer Gates, one of two council members representing the city on the VisitDallas board. She said she was simply told he “departed.”

“No one really talked about it,” Gates said. She said an internal committee at VisitDallas had conducted an inquiry into the agency’s books and she was told no problems had been found.

Matthew Jones, who in June opened a business consultancy with his wife, Helen, told The Texas Monitor this week that his termination and his colleague’s resignation “took a while building up and if that was the answer that would help with public perception and allow them to move forward, well, then it was the right choice. We all reached a mutual conclusion and we all left.” He said his employment with VisitDallas was at will – not under a contract.

Phillip Jones resigned shortly after a story by The Texas Monitor reported numerous instances of his official travel coinciding with endurance races he participated in.

As the story was being investigated, Matthew Jones defended the CEO, saying the races were run on personal time and paid for with personal money.

“Over the past 15 years, with about 100 nights of travel per year, Phillip has extended his work-related trips for personal reasons only a handful of times and always at his own expense,” Jones told The Texas Monitor in an April email. “Our travel policy allows staff on business travel to participate in personal activities at their own expense as long as they do not conflict with business purposes or cost the organization.”

But the discovery was one more bit of bad public relations for VisitDallas, which was already reeling from a city audit released in January that found excessive spending by Phillip Jones as well as lackadaisical record-keeping by the agency.

Matthew Jones was also part of the financial team that failed to clearly report advances made to the CEO on a $400,000 bonus payment.

Phillip Jones’ LinkedIn page shows he is now the “chief destination marketing officer” for the Royal Commission for Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia. He did not respond to an email seeking comment. The commission is a preservationist society for the ancient town.   

Matthew Jones said the new administration at VisitDallas will have to go through a learning curve.

“It will be a difficult time for them,” said Jones, who spent four years as undersecretary for the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in the early 2000s. “It’s going to take some time to build the trust of the convention industry.”

He and Phillip Jones worked at the Louisiana agency together for four years, before Phillip came to Dallas in 2003. Matthew Jones was hired in Dallas in 2004. 

So far, the road to that trust has been rocky. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Monday fired off a letter to interim VisitDallas CEO Sam Coats after finding out that VisitDallas is proposing to remove the mayor’s authority to appoint representatives to the VisitDallas board.

“As you know, VisitDallas receives more than $16 million a year through the city” from the city’s hotel occupancy tax, Johnson wrote. “I believe the city of Dallas should have some influence over how those dollars are spent and how Dallas is represented to potential visitors.”

Coats backed off the new plan, and in a letter to Johnson on Wednesday said, “We are delighted that you wish to be actively engaged with VisitDallas and will act accordingly.”

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here