Following a lengthy debate about whether proposed legislation would streamline financing for the Jefferson Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau or loosen parish oversight of its operations, the Jefferson Parish Council deferred a vote Wednesday on a measure endorsing a state Senate bill that would alter how parish tax dollars are funneled to the agency.
The bureau got more than $1.2 million in hotel occupancy tax revenue in 2015 to market the parish to potential visitors. Under a five-year agreement signed in June, the tax money first goes to the Parish Council, which later releases it to the bureau.
Proponents of that arrangement — Councilmen Chris Roberts and Ricky Templet as well as parish Inspector General David McClintock — said it enables parish watchdogs to monitor the nonprofit bureau’s spending.
They said the Senate bill — filed by Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, at the bureau’s request — would strip the parish of its ability to track the funds it gives to the tourism group.
Bureau President Violet Peters and her allies countered that relying annually on the Parish Council to release the tax money places the tourism organization at a disadvantage when competing for sporting events and conventions that require multi-year agreements.
Peters said her organization, which promotes an industry that employs 10,000 people in Jefferson Parish, does not object to scrutiny by McClintock’s office and other parish entities.
However, under the present arrangement, the Visitors Bureau’s tax funding could one day be withheld for political reasons, and the agency wants to eliminate that possibility, said Stephen Borecki, chairman of its board of directors.
Before the council agreed to defer the measure endorsing Martiny’s bill, measure co-sponsors Ben Zahn and Jennifer Van Vrancken discussed drafting an amendment “that would add in points of (parish) oversight” for the Visitors Bureau, such as quarterly reports and audits.
Martiny’s bill remains pending before a Senate committee. He did not say Wednesday whether he would advance the bill without a council endorsement.
The council, which will revisit the funding issue next month, was previously divided on other bureau-related issues to which officials repeatedly alluded Wednesday.
In November, Roberts sponsored an ordinance, opposed by Zahn, barring anyone working with candidates for certain political offices from getting a contract awarded by parish government or a parish-funded group.
Roberts said he introduced the ordinance, which was passed, after the Visitors Bureau tried to host a political debate even though its paid media consultant, Greg Buisson, also represented one of the candidates.
Roberts said the ordinance was aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest, but Buisson said Roberts was retaliating against him because Buisson had worked for an unsuccessful Roberts challenger last year.
Roberts denied that, but Buisson sued the parish and Roberts — a client of his years earlier — in federal court. The matter is unresolved.
Buisson has done work for many Jefferson politicians over the years, including Zahn. He still works for the Visitors Bureau.