Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell (Commentary)
April 5, 2017
Wednesday’s paper revealed that Orange County’s publicly funded tourism agency, Visit Orlando, spent a whopping $750,000 to attend a single travel-industry trade show in New Orleans last year and another $200,000 on a similar show in Dubai.
For $750,000, you shouldn’t just attend a trade show … you should own it.
Now, maybe the million or so bucks Visit Orlando spent attending these two shows was the smartest, most prudently invested million bucks in the history of tourism promotion.
We still have a problem.
And it’s that the taxpayers who fund this agency — to the tune of more than $50 million a year — wouldn’t have known about this spending unless a politician 250 miles away, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, had demanded answers.
Local politicians seemed content to keep you in the dark.
And that’s the issue. The secrecy at Visit Orlando needs to end.
Other major convention and visitors bureaus — including the one in Las Vegas — operate completely in the light. They are public agencies that meet in public and account for all they do.
Here, taxpayers, who fund the majority of Visit Orlando’s budget, get only a partial picture.
Local officials require some disclosure — such as top salaries (like $607,000 for CEO George Aguel) and copies of check receipts. But details and explanations are often hard to come by … unless demanded by an elected official 10 counties away.
Publicly funded agencies sometimes respond to tough questions about spending by saying: Oh that? Don’t worry about that. For that, we used private money.
Horse hockey. Suggesting taxpayers ignore certain expenditures would be like a nonprofit telling its chief donor not to worry about the Ferrari the agency just bought because: The Ferrari dollars were our dollars. Your dollars still go to worthy causes.
Listen, I’m generally OK with using hotel taxes to fund tourism promotion efforts. That’s why they were originally levied. But I’m not OK with keeping private secrets with public money.
If Visit Orlando feels it wisely handles all the public’s money, it should have no problem operating completely in the sunshine. And Mayor Teresa Jacobs and her peers on the County Commission shouldn’t wait for others to pull back the drapes. [READ MORE]