Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Inside baseball on the KTSC mess

So, at this point is there anything left to say about the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. mess that hasn’t already been reported in the paper, on TV and over at the blogs? Ha ha. Of course there is.

I wrote this entry on Sunday while watching the Stupor Bowl and the suck commercials that accompanied the game. But then I got caught up and didn't get a chance to post it.

Wow, rambling already and only a few sentences in. OK, I suppose there are a few things worth mentioning that haven’t been touched on yet. Note, that most of this is inside baseball.

First off, I posted a few days back about the KTSC hiring local spin team Moxley Carmichael. I called KTSC a public relations group. Cynthia over at the real PR firm pointed out that they’re actually a “marketing” group. At this point I don’t think it really matters. But, in the interest of fair play . . .

Anyhoo, Moxley Carmichael is charging KTSC $200 and hour. That’s a discount from the usual $250 an hour. Cynthia told me that in 10 years I’ll probably be in public relations myself. After seeing those numbers I don’t disagree.

But, first I want a job running KTSC. Heh.

(Oh yeah, for disclosure’s sake, The Knoxville News Sentinel has Moxley Carmichael on retainer. Or under contract. Or however all that works. Regardless, the company handles spin for us.)

Next up: Ward Phillips.

Ward is the attorney KTSC hired when the media started looking into how the non-profit spends money. I’m super impressed with Ward. You know, typically when a group hires an attorney, the lawyer represents the members of that group. Reality check: The attorney is supposed to represent the operation as a whole – not just the director, the chairman, the whoever.

Ward hasn’t pulled any punches in the last week or so. He – it appears at least – is acting in the best interest of KTSC and not one individual. Case in point: He pretty much said CEO Gloria Ray’s contract was illegal. (Heck, he practically begged the board to fire her during last Friday’s meeting.) And, he also noted that board members probably violated a few rules.

It’s always a relief to see an attorney do what they’re supposed to do. Cheers to him.

(I hope all this makes sense.)

Moving on . . . .

Ray’s future: Well, she’s a local icon and institution, and despite what you might think about her, no one at this point has proved that she’s broken the law. Yeah, she probably did draft her own contract and fax it down to Florida to board chairman David Duncan to sign (all this under the radar of the other members of the executive committee), but . . . well, whatever. Unless, it's proven he got kickbacks from this – and I mean proven – then . . . .

Maybe if the board members were actually paying attention. But, again, whatever.

And no, I don’t buy the argument that Ward made (I believe it was him) about how they’re all volunteers, so they can’t be expected to know everything. You know what? Quit then. Get off the board. I mean, come on. Don’t you want to know what your boss makes? And if given the chance, wouldn’t you take a peek? They should have looked. They didn't. End of discussion.

Sooooo, The board says Gloria owes KTSC $96K in folding paper. If it lets her go without cause, then it owes her about $55K in coin and some incidentals, like expenses, travel, whatever. I’m sure all of it will add up to be a lot. Like a lot, lot.

I’m guessing – that because of the work Gloria has done in the past – the board calls it a wash and lets her go “without cause,” and wipes the slate (any payments) clean. Now, whether she’ll stay on as a consultant is another story. Personally, she probably should, at least for a year to head up a transition. Of course that would mean paying her $150K. Unless that can be worked out.

One a side note, firing Gloria with cause might not be the smartest thing. If KTSC really wants to take the focus off the recent problems and get on with doing whatever it’s supposed to do, then it needs to work out something. If it doesn’t, Gloria will take them to court. I guarantee it. She didn’t get to where she is by lying down and taking it.

(On a side note, we’ve reported that Gloria makes more than many of her counterparts in other major Tennessee cities, but did you know she also make more than Susan Walker, the state commissioner of tourist development? Yup. Walker makes $152,400 per year. Thanks to ass-kicking KNS state reporter Tom Humphrey for pointing that out to me.)

OK, let’s get to some good stuff.

County Mayor Tim Burchett. A lot of folks think he and the good Emperor, Dean Rice, were behind this mess, that they were the two trying to get out the information to the media, since Burchett wants to sell the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Nope. (I’ve taken my shots at both of them, but neither was behind this.) Don’t get me wrong, they’re not upset about what’s going on and I imagine there was some fist-bumping going on, but they weren’t behind the information drive.

You see, Burchett announced a long time ago that he wanted to sell the Hall of Fame. That was no secret. And if he knew about Gloria’s salary at that time, then it would have gone public then. It didn’t Also, Burchett wants KTSC – if the hall of fame is put on the market – to buy it and run the operation. Heck, I’m pretty sure that when the purchasing department got done with the bid it would have been written in such a way that KTSC would be the only logical buyer. And really, at this point they might be. So, the mayor doesn’t need this outrage. And yes, I know, that sounds funny. Because sometimes I think Burchett wakes up in the morning, looking for controversy.

With that said Burchett’s call for Gloria’s resignation on Thursday was straight spontaneity. Here’s what happened. As KTSC announced that David Duncan had resigned the previous evening, KNS reporter Josh Flory received some records that he had asked for wile back. He wrote the story and, using the documents, was the first to report the retention bonuses Gloria is/was set to receive. Burchett read the story Thursday morning and was none too happy. The same morning, WBIR, which also received the records, showed them to the county mayor.

And that was it.

Ticked off about the situation – and because he had asked Gloria about her total compensation weeks prior and wasn't told about these incentive bonuses - Burchett immediately called for her resignation.

No one on the city’s side of the Deathstar had a clue about this. So, when they heard that Burchett made the announcement, some on that side – I won’t say who – at first resisted. There was also talk about forming a committee to look into the KTSC issue. (Like this county/city needs another committee.) But, the writing was on the wall.

Then they opted for a spin conference. My understanding is that Burchett's people reached out to the Rogero camp and asked if they wanted to hold a joint press conference. At least one of Madeline's top adviser's was on board, but Madeline wanted to go solo. So, last Thursday’s spin conference was Madeline’s first as mayor.

I wasn’t there, but I heard Madeline did a pretty good job and made it clear that she wasn’t standing for Gloria to make some $600K in coin in her final year of her contract. (Now, if the city's mayor will just look at her own spin team, which makes more than a combined $200k salaries while the county's spin doctor makes about $54,000 . . . but I digress.)

So, who did leak the information (yeah, I know it was public but no one bothered to look) that got the media looking into this whole mess? Well, there could be some truth to the email that the KTSC Chairman David Duncan sent and which I wrote about (click right smack here for that bad boy). Or maybe not.

David Duncan – no relation to Trustee John Duncan III or his family – blames former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, Liza Zenni, executive director of the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville, and Caesar Stair, a local attorney who serves on the alliance board.

Well, Victor certainly wrote about the issue – although he didn’t name names – before anyone else. And yes that includes WBIR, which continues to erroneously note that it reported about Gloria’s salary first (more on that later). I don’t know anything about Caesar’s role. I do know that he knows Liza. And I know that Liza and Victor don’t hang out.

But, here’s what else I know.

Back around November, Gloria and Liza got into a spat about the 5 percent of hotel/motel tax that is typically allocated to the smaller non-profits (think Beck Center, Ramsey House, symphony, blah, blah. Blah).

Some members of the Arts Alliance (Liza’s group) felt Gloria wanted the money to run the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame – if KTSC ever bought it. (Gloria denies her organization needed this money.)

There was plenty of internal bickering and the Arts Alliance board told Liza to step down from the KTSC board (yes, she was on both boards). The arts folks felt it was a conflict. They also saw the potential for a feud. So, did Liza leak the information out of spite?

Well, a lot of people think so. I will say that she did not give me the information. I heard about this elsewhere, and at this point I don't remember who first told me.

And: Does it really freakin’ matter who leaked what? No, it doesn’t!

(Also, the feud is now moot as county Mayor Tim Burchett decided late last year that he was going to make organizations bid on that 5 percent. They'll now have to submit “requests for information” and then a team will figure out who gets the money. At this point, the Arts Alliance has put together a group and will go after the money. KTSC isn't expected to.)

Now, let’s get down to who first broke this story. I get kind of annoyed with the whole “you heard it here first” or “as we first reported” or whatever. Hey, I get it. The media – KNS included – likes to toot its horn. Fine. Just make sure you know what you’re talking about.

So, I know a lot of people aren’t going to like this and I’ll probably catch some heat for it. But I got news for you: I don't care.

Rogue blogger Brian Hornback was actually the first to write about Gloria's salary with any detail and name names. You can find if by clicking right smack here.

Again, that’s also probably going to tick off some people over at the local TV channel that’s been bragging about this, but . . . whatever.

Finally, what does the future hold?

I don’t know. I think more crap will come out about the contracts and how they were hammered out in the middle of the night. Or not. Maybe the new executive committee will keep a better eye on things.

I hope.

Anyway, I’m out.

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