Chattanooga Convention and Visitor Bureau officials on Wednesday said they would provide detailed information on how the agency spends hotel/motel tax funds to individual County Commission members, but the information is off limits to reporters and the general public.
Keith Sanford of the CVB board said, "We want to be as open as we can. We really want to be transparent."
But CVB president and CEO Bob Doak said not everything can be made public because he said that could harm the agency in relation to its competing with other visitor bureaus to bring conventions here.
Commission Finance Chairman Tim Boyd asked Mr. Doak if he would be willing to make public such information as check registers and travel statements. He said none of the information he was referring to had anything to do with competitive advantage.
Mr. Doak paused and then said, "No."
The CVB had a lineup of speakers touting the good work of the bureau.
Mike Steele, who formerly was involved in the old Tourist Development Agency, said of Mr. Doak, "You will not find a finer man of greater character. We ought to be riding Bob Doak around on our shoulders."
Hotel developer Mitch Patel said the CVB's use of hotel/motel tax funds has led to over $1 billion in economic benefit and up to 9,000 jobs.
Mr. Sanford said a five percent drop in tourism results "would be a $50 million decrease."
Developer Ken Defoor said he "would have given pause" on a $60 million development at Pine and Chestnut streets had he known the CVB budget might be cut.
He said, "If we take the energy away that is firing this city, I shudder to think what will happen."
Mr. Doak told the commission that his wife was involved in redecorating the offices at the 18th floor of the SunTrust Bank Building when the agency was forced to move, but he said she was paid "zero." He said she also donated a piece of art work for the office.
Mr. Doak said the office has about $15,000 in art, including some that was donated. He said it has $63,000 in furnishings and equipment and the build out was $391,000.
Commissioner Boyd said his figure of over $420,000 for furnishings and computers came directly from a CVB depreciation document.
Commissioner Warren Mackey praised the work of the tourism group and Commissioner Joe Graham said its office needs to be fine. "They can't bring prospects to a barn in Lookout Valley," he said.
Mr. Doak said, "We are the chief marketers for all of Hamilton County. We are very diligent in how we spend our money. It is always with a return on investment in mind."
He said the bureau sends out 400,000 visitor guides each year and can reach half a million people via socia media "with the touch of a button."
Commissioner Boyd, noting that the CVB is now getting $7.1 million in hotel/motel tax funds per year, said Huntsville has a $2 million budget and is also getting a $1 billion economic benefit.