City News Roundup

Controversy surrounding VisitDallas and more Dallas city news

Controversy surrounding VisitDallas and more Dallas city news

VisitDallas Phillip Jones
VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones Courtesy photo

Candidates for public office in Dallas are officially filing, and some fresh faces are seeking a spot on city council. Dallas' teen curfew is under review, and there are some questions raised about VisitDallas.

These are the biggest news stories in Dallas this week:

Mayor-Palooza
Add former Texas State Representative Jason Villalba to the long list of people running to become mayor of Dallas, which now includes everyone from a local developer to nonprofit leaders to City Hall veterans to a Walmart employee.

Villalba represented Texas House District 114 from 2013-2018 as one of the few Dallas County Republicans to win office and reelection. He is an attorney who says he wants to "do more for those in our community who have not been able to fully participate in Dallas' tremendous success."

If you feel confused by who all is running, there's a candidate forum being hosted by LULAC and the Eco Latino Radio Program, set for February 12 at Texas Theater.

While the mayor candidates are actively campaigning, none has filed official election paperwork.

Several campaigns are underway for a place on the city council including:

  • District 1: Chad A. West
  • District 2: Paul A. Freeman
  • District 3: Casey Thomas II, incumbent
  • Dictrict 4: Corwyn Davis
  • District 7: ​Sade' Johnson
  • District 8: Tennell Atkins, incumbent, and Erik Wilson, former council member
  • District 11: Curtis T. Harris
  • District 12: Carolyn "Cookie" Peadon and Daniel Powell
  • District 14: Phillip Kingston, incumbent

Election Day is May 4, and we can probably expect to return to the voting booth for a runoff in July. May the force be with us.

Teen Curfew
City leaders are discussing what to do about a teen curfew set to expire in just a few weeks. City Council was briefed this week by Police Chief U. Renee Hall and two public hearings are planned for February.

The curfew prohibits children under the age of 16 from going outside without an adult after 11 pm Sunday-Thursday. On the weekends they cannot be out past midnight.

With authority from the Curfew Ordinance that has been in place since 1991, police officers can charge juveniles with a Class C misdemeanor, which includes a fine.

Some councilmembers say the curfew is unfair to minorities. Police officials said the curfew needs to be updated and renewed before it expires.

Visit Dallas kerfuffle
There are rumblings around Visit Dallas, the nonprofit convention and visitors bureau for Dallas. The organization - which received more than $146 million in city tax funds between 2013 and 2017, much of it from a hotel occupancy tax - was recently audited, which has brought attention to the accounting of its expenses and some loans granted to its CEO, Phillip Jones.

D Magazine figures that Jones, whose salary is about $670,000, owes $225,000 to the organization that includes a $35,000 "pay advance." Spokesperson Frank Librio told Candy's Dirt that the loan was tied to "a private family issue" with Jones' adult son, who is disabled.

State law requires that loans made to employees must benefit VisitDallas.

According to an email from Librio, the audit yielded "a collection of new recommendations and suggestions for supplemental reporting, and an added layer of oversight. In fact, of the 31 bullets across their 18 recommendations, almost 90% were new suggestions. Additionally, almost all of the recommendations were aimed at city departments’ review and oversight of our work to bring more visitors to Dallas."

Librio says that, "under the VisitDallas board of director’s leadership, along with executive management, we look forward to working cooperatively with the city to ensure any and all identified issues in the city audit are fully addressed and appreciate the opportunity to provide a fuller picture of what we do. The entire VisitDallas organization is committed to full transparency and fiscal responsibility when it comes to its use and application of funds generated by visitors to our city."

Librio says that Phillip Jones had a five-year contract from 2013-2018 that was negotiated and approved by the board. In that five-year contract, a retention bonus was included, equaling approximately $400,000. Jones drew board-approved advances on that retention totaling $225,000 over the five-year period. "Therefore, at the end of the five-year contract period (Sept. 30, 2018) the organization owed him the remaining balance of the retention, minus the advances and taxes.  So, he does not owe anything."

"If he didn’t complete the 5 year contract term then and only then would he have owed the organization. But that was not the case," Librio says.

Working for VisitDallas seems like a pretty good gig, with the staff of 15 pulling six-figure salaries, ranging from $140K up to $414,812 to sales VP Brad Kent.