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CRVA Gets Its City Money

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110726.mp3

Charlotte's main tourism marketing agency got its city funding last night, after more than a month of wrangling with city officials. The City Council has been withholding $10 million from the CRVA since mid-June, demanding the tourism group fix what independent auditors called a "crisis of credibility." The CRVA's been under scrutiny for its bonus and expense policies, as well as a million-dollar deficit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. CRVA board members have promised to revise the expense and bonus policy by September 1. They've also demoted CRVA CEO Tim Newman to senior sales and marketing executive. Heading into last night's meeting, Councilman Andy Dulin was skeptical of the move. "No, it doesn't answer any of my concerns at the CRVA," said Dulin. "They are capable of adding an executive if they think that's what they need to do, but it's not what I would have suggested. I would have tried to limit their expenses. But there will be some questions tonight about the expense part of what's going on, I'm sure." Dulin said he was hoping for frank discussion about the CRVA's proposal to add another executive. "I think the public wants us to have that discussion." Charlotte resident Wayne Powers had no problem being frank with his opinion during the council's public comment period. "(CRVA executives) set themselves up as the gatekeepers of their crony network, dispensing perks and goodies - expensive ticket events, preferred seating, parking, travel, gifts, $900 dinners and on and on - skimming off fat cat paychecks and expense accounts for themselves in the process!" said Powers. "That's an authority gone wild!" But there was not a frank city council discussion regarding CRVA expenses last night. Newman's salary and bonus total about $300,000. Keeping him and hiring a new CEO at a similar salary would increase the agency's $3.7 million administrative budget by more than 8 percent, unless cuts are made. So where will CRVA find the money? CRVA board member Russ Sizemore didn't say during the meeting, and wouldn't elaborate afterward, either. He also wouldn't say what he expects Newman's salary to be. That will be up to the CRVA board and the new CEO. But Sizemore did tell council that hiring a new CEO will make the organization more efficient. "With a CEO we expect to have greater efficiencies in a variety of areas and do that work that needs to be done to optimize this organization so it can do both for the destination marketing and the managing of the properties," said Sizemore. "We hear you - this board has heard you - loud and clear about both of those components." Newman listened intently as Sizemore addressed the council, but declined to comment after the meeting. Much of the council's public discussion about the CRVA funding danced around the issue of Newman's leadership. Mayor Anthony Foxx has been most direct in calling for Newman's ouster. Last night Foxx said, "This is not about one person. It's never been about one person." It's about making sure the CRVA is doing the best it can at marketing Charlotte to tourists, said Foxx. Several council members said they were encouraged by changes at the CRVA and were eager to put the bruising debate behind them. The city council unanimously approved full funding for the CRVA, but also asked the tourism agency to return in six months and show real improvement.

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