Updated Nov. 14 at 3 p.m.
In an email, VisitDallas spokeswoman Stephanie Faulk provided responses to several points in this story. See updates at bottom of story.
The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau nearly doubled the number of its employees making over $100,000 between 2016 and 2017, from 16 individuals to 30, according to the agency’s newly released 2017 tax return.
In the same period, the bureau’s membership fees, collected from local businesses in exchange for promotion, dropped 26 percent.
In the top salary ranks were then-CEO Phillip Jones, with a total reimbursement of $710,026; then-Chief Financial Officer Matthew Jones, no relation, at $425,386; and agency spokesman Frank Librio at $286,709.
The numbers included substantial raises for all three men – 6 percent for the CEO, 11 percent for Matthew Jones, and a whopping 53 percent for Librio. Phillip Jones’ total included a $196,703 bonus and, for Matthew Jones, a $128,042 bonus.
The group, also known as VisitDallas, reported a $7.2 million contribution from an arm of the governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund that gives grants for events, said Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, one of two council members who represent the public on the VisitDallas board of directors.
John Wittman, spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, said the money came from an events fund that is similar to TEF grants, but “there are a lot of requirements from the state to receive these. They must prove the economic impact to receive them.” He said the funding goes for events including NCAA basketball tournaments and other major sports contests.
Gates said VisitDallas board members were not given a copy of the tax return, which was filed with the IRS in August.
Many tax-exempt convention groups, including those in Austin, Arlington and Houston, give board members copies of tax returns to help them make the most informed decisions on the spending and direction of their organizations.
“I’m going to tell them that the [tax returns] need to be given to board members,” Gates said.
In 2016, the VisitDallas return noted that board members can obtain copies of the document by asking the board secretary. The 2017 return provides no such notice and was not widely distributed.
Gates said she did not know the reason for the increase in higher-paid employees.
A city audit released in January reported that the agency provided vague, debatable data on hotel occupancy and other key measures of its performance. The city’s failure to monitor VisitDallas’s tax filings is among the problems cited in the audit.
The audit also found that VisitDallas mixed its revenues from various 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.
In order to remain as an agency, VisitDallas has agreed to several changes in the way it does business, including tighter financial restraints and frequent reporting to the city.
The newly released tax return shows no payment in 2017 from the agency to the convention center, which the agency is required to make. The city audit cited the agency’s failure to pay the convention center $500,000 annually per the VisitDallas contract with the city. The audit noted that several city council actions had allowed VisitDallas to make late payments, although 2017 is the first year it failed to make any payment at all.
The return contains no Schedule L form, which had been used in previous years to report the $275,000 cost of renting a suite at the American Airlines Center. VisitDallas says the suite is used to court business.
CFO Jones was fired at the same time.
On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council will consider a one-year, $20 million funding plan for VisitDallas, using an amended contract that includes changes to address some of the problems identified by the audit. The VisitDallas contract with the city expires in October next year.
Stephanie Faulk’s responses:
On the 53 percent pay increase for VisitDallas employee Frank Librio: “Frank Librio was promoted from VP of Communications to Chief Marketing Officer in the year in which you note a salary jump. As CMO he oversees and provides leadership and guidance to the entire marketing, communications, digital, social and creative teams, and the agencies of record.”
On the increase in the number of six-figure salaries between 2016 and 2017: “The number reported (30) for 2017 (FY 18) is correct. 2016 (FY 17) should have been reported as 27. We’re reviewing the discrepancy with our outside tax preparers.”
On the lack of documentation on convention center payments: “Our records indicate that all required payments of $500,000 were made to the center in FY 17, FY 18 and FY 19.”
On providing a copy of the tax return to board members: “Currently, there is no provision in policy for the Form 990 to be presented to the Board of Directors. While the IRS does not require the Board to review, we have voluntarily made it available for them.”
On the failure to document the $275,000 rental payment for the American Airlines Center suite: “Our agreement with the AAC has not changed. We’re reviewing the changes in Schedule L with our outside tax preparers.”
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].