Orlando Sentinel by Steven Lemongello
November 7, 2017
Visit Orlando will close one of the biggest loopholes preventing it from full transparency by publicly posting all contracts starting as soon as next month, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Tuesday.
In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Jacobs said all agreements with the county’s tourism agency, even those with third-party subcontractors, will be voluntarily reported and posted once approved by the agency’s board this month.
Jacobs also said all future contracts with Visit Orlando will not include confidentiality agreements of the type it signed with the U.S. Tennis Association.
In August, Jacobs had said such changes to the way Visit Orlando reported how it spent taxpayer money couldn’t happen until a new contract was renewed next September.
“I think this gets us in line with what the Legislature passed,” said Jacobs of the rules imposed by the Legislature in the spring for Visit Florida, the statewide tourism marketing agency. “I think we already had the most transparent [local] visitor’s bureau in the state … and I think this will make all expenditures transparent. That is the goal.”
The move comes as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, is threatening to crack down on local tourism groups — and Visit Orlando in particular — to make them as open and transparent as Visit Florida.
But Jacobs said the changes were not in direct reaction to Corcoran’s threats, which included legislation and warnings of possible subpoenas, and were instead part of ongoing discussions over the course of the past few months with Visit Orlando.
Jacobs sent a letter to Corcoran on Monday detailing the changes, saying she wanted to keep him in the loop. Corcoran did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Visit Orlando this year received $51 million of its more than $80 million budget from the 6 percent county hotel tax. But the agency cited confidentiality agreements in refusing to release details about millions of dollars in contracts, including a multiyear agreement with the tennis association.
Corcoran, who demanded Visit Florida open its books after threatening to cut off taxpayer funding, has since moved his focus to the local tourism agencies, 12 of which cut all ties with Visit Florida once the state transparency rules went into effect.
Visit Orlando had already agreed in August to list all vendors in the county’s public check registry and report any corporate sponsorship agreements worth more than $500,000 per year, beginning with the next contract in 2018.
But even those changes still concealed third-party spending, including $76,500 in tax money spent advertising on WOFL-Channel 35’s traffic and weather camera this year. The agency only revealed details of the deal after Corcoran demanded them. Visit Orlando advertises with the Orlando Sentinel, and WOFL-Channel 35 has a news partnership with the Sentinel. [READ MORE]