Tourism boards in the U.S. often have to fight hard to maintain their funding sources. When legitimate questions over executive compensation levels come up — as has happened in Oregon — it threatens to give all of tourism marketing a bad name.
Pay for the director and other managers of Oregon’s travel bureau is among the highest of any state agency, even though Travel Oregon has a much smaller staff and budget, according to a state audit released Thursday.
Since 2012, managers’ salaries ballooned by 76%, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
As of June, the state paid CEO Todd Davidson $381,624 including a car and cellphone allowance, up 129% from approximately $167,000 a decade ago. The Oregon Tourism Commission has since given Davidson a 3% raise, auditors wrote.
By comparison, Department of Human Services Director Fariborz Pakseresht, who leads Oregon’s largest state agency with roughly 8,600 employees, was paid $200,388 as of June. Travel Oregon employs 60 people.
Davidson agreed with all of the auditors’ recommendations.
“The agency is committed to continuous improvement and we are grateful for the constructive conversations that took place with Audits Division staff during the audit process,” Davidson wrote. “We are proud of our contributions to supporting local communities and growing Oregon’s economy through tourism in a way that is consistent with Oregon values.”
The audit findings will likely raise questions for already skeptical lawmakers whom Gov. Kate Brown has asked to approve an increase in the statewide tourism tax that largely funds Travel Oregon. It’s part of Brown’s plan to secure an additional $20 million for the 2021 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, for a total of $40 million in state funding.
As The Oregonian/OregonLive reported last week, Travel Oregon’s budget has surged more than 50% to $39.3 million annually and its payroll has also grown since lawmakers nearly doubled the statewide tourism lodging tax that largely funds the funds the agency in 2016.
The only state government employee with a salary higher than Davidson’s in June was the chief investment officer, who oversees an approximately $81 billion investment portfolio.
Travel Oregon managers told auditors that they based the salaries on an analysis of comparable salaries commissioned in 2016. But Travel Oregon managers were unable to supply details and could not locate evidence of a contract with the compensation consultant.
State auditors recommended that Travel Oregon do a better job of maintaining the records it uses to justify employee compensation decisions and sharing information about their pay with the Legislature.
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Photo credit: Crater Lake in Oregon. Sandra Strait / Flickr