Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peeling the onion

CVB ignored Public Records Law, spends millions of taxpayer dollars on salaries

The New Olreans Convention and Visitors Bureau spends up to $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars - half the amount allocated by the citizens of this state to the organization already for "tourism marketing" - on salaries for its CEO and multiple Vice-Presidents and other executives.

And that's just a small part of the story.  I have been told, but have not been able to prove, that CVB employees get paid a commission by specific hotels in the city to book rooms on top of their publicly-funded salaries.  Think about this, the public money that goes to fund the CVB and NOTMC (New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corp.) comes from a mandatory tax placed on hotels and motels in the city.  So if I'm "Jason's Inn" every room I rent is being taxed to fund the city's two tourism entities, NOTMC and the CVB.  If this allegation about commissions is true, those employees at the CVB are getting paid salaries by a tax generated from my hotel while they are simultaneously getting their palms greased by pimping out rooms for other specific hotels in the city.  I am essentially being taxed to help them help my competition.

On top of this, in the new bill, SB 242, the proposed "fee" (it's a tax, don't kid yourself) on hotels and motels is being pushed as "voluntary".  But if you opt out you cannot be a "member" of the CVB.  Well...bullshit....hotels and motels are already paying the CVB through a tax that has been in place for decades...they should be able to opt of that tax as well if they are denied "membership" to the entity and whatever perks that entails.  They are attempting to incorporate a tax on top of an already existing tax and strong arm the hotels/motels into ponying up.

The truth is, Steve Perry has been running a fiefdom called the CVB for over a decade.  As shocking an allegation as the salary amounts and commissions are, I've been told the travel and expense budget would make the Public Belt Railroad look like child's play.  In fact I was told that when the CVB and NOTMC were discussing a merger and becoming one entity, Mayor Landrieu was demanding that the CVB open its books and provide a level of transparency.  The response in a closed meeting was (paraphrased), "We can't do that because we don't think the public would understand our expense account.  We are in a the hospitality industry and we have to travel and entertain more than other public entities."

Well tough shit....as long as they are receiving public money they should have to show the public how that money is being spent and be forced to explain it.  

Here's the thing with the CVB (and I have a ton of other issues involving cronyism and contracts that I'm not even bringing up here), if they are going to try and hide their activities behind a "public/private" curtain then we need to pull the public part of that curtain down.  NOTMC has always complied with public records requests, as far as I know.  If the CVB refuses we should take all public money and divert it towards NOTMC.  Or alternatively, we should put the services up for RFP and pay an advertising agency to do the job.  There are plenty of advertising agencies in this city, Peter Mayer, Trumpet, et al., that could give us more bang for the buck if they were contracted to perform the CVB's services.  And we would actually have the option of firing the company if they weren't performing...an option we don't have with the CVB.

The bottom line is that this fiefdom needs to be busted, not rewarded by over doubling the amount of money they are already getting.

I am not opposed to the idea of the "fee", I am opposed to putting another dime in the hands of this organization, the CVB, that refuses to provide transparency in how it is spending public money.  I would be all for giving the money to NOTMC generated from the fee but the CVB needs to be vetted under public scrutiny, if not outright dissolved.

FACT CHECK EDIT NOTE:  I originally stated that Perry had been running the CVB for "decades"...not quite two but close.  So I have amended the sentence to over a decade. 


Anonymous said...

In view of such a setup at CVB, it's begun to make sense why all their board members seem so damned happy (and pleased with themselves) all the time. In fact, skeptical as I am about government and quasi-government workers in general, nothing worries me more than happy-seeming public servants ... to me, it always signifies successful graft.

Jason Brad Berry said...

They're both well established firms in this city, I don't know on what criteria you're basing your opinion but you certainly have a right to it.

The point is...if put the services up for RFP we have the ability to perform performance evaluations and make changes. We would have a degree of control over the money and services that greatly affect this city instead of getting millions funneled into a fiefdom, without having any measure of finacncial auditing or performance evaluation, in perpetuity.