The Jefferson Parish Council is scheduled Wednesday to consider endorsing a state Senate bill that would change the way the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau receives its parish tax funding.
The matter might seem routine, but it is causing controversy among parish officials.
The bureau last year got more than $1.2 million in hotel-motel occupancy tax revenue to market and promote the parish to potential visitors under a five-year cooperative endeavor agreement approved in June. Under the agreement, the tax money goes first to the Parish Council, which then forwards it to the bureau.
Visitors Bureau President Violet Peters asked state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, to file a bill that would instead send the tax money directly to the organization.
She said that would prevent the funding from ever being withheld by hostile council members, something she called conceivable even though it hasn’t happened in the past. She said most comparable agencies around the state operate under similar arrangements.
Martiny agreed to file the bill but said he wanted a resolution stating the Parish Council’s support before advancing it out of a Senate committee.
Council members Ben Zahn, of Kenner, and Jennifer Van Vrancken, of Metairie, co-sponsored such a resolution, and it was put on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.
It calls the nonprofit bureau a “proven ... successful marketing team for Jefferson Parish helping boost the tourism industry here to a more than $1 billion industry.”
The resolution does not have the support of the entire council, however.
Councilman Chris Roberts said altering the existing arrangement would prevent the parish’s internal auditor and parish Inspector General David McClintock’s office from monitoring the bureau’s spending.
“It is never a good idea in today’s time of increased oversight and accountability to allow a private agency to receive public dollars directly without the oversight and scrutiny of public auditing,” Roberts said.
McClintock made a similar argument in a memorandum to the Parish Council on Tuesday, writing that Martiny’s bill might negate the parish’s “ability to set expectations ... as a condition of parish funding.”
Zahn and Roberts have disagreed over the Convention and Visitors Bureau before.
In November, Zahn was one of two council members who voted against an ordinance, sponsored by Roberts, to prohibit anyone working for a candidate for parish president or the council from also getting a contract awarded by parish government or any group receiving parish funds.
Roberts said he introduced the ordinance after the Visitors Bureau tried to host a forum for candidates running for parish president last fall, even though the bureau’s paid media consultant is Greg Buisson, who was working with the eventual winner of the parish presidential election, Mike Yenni.
Roberts said the ordinance, which passed, was meant to avoid situations where clients of political consultants might benefit from events those consultants are paid by the parish to promote.
In turn, Buisson accused Roberts of targeting him for retaliation because Buisson also worked for Louis Congemi, who unsuccessfully challenged Roberts for his council seat. Roberts denied the accusation.
Buisson filed a federal lawsuit against the parish and Roberts, challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance. The suit remains pending.
Buisson has worked for a multitude of Jefferson politicians over the years, including Roberts several years ago, plus Zahn and other council members.
Peters said Buisson still works with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.