Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. CEO responds to salary scrutiny

Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. CEO responds to salary scrutiny

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By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Gloria Ray, president and CEO of the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corp. said she isn't offended by all the questions being raised about her $405,000 pay package.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero has already said the pay appears excessive.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett expressed the same concern Thursday. "It's just too much money," he said.

Burchett was among those surprised that Ray makes $405,000 in pay and incentives to promote the city and county to tourists. 

Even more stunning to Mayor Burchett was that most members of KTSC's board didn't know either.

"When I've talked to board members who are business professionals and confide in me that they don't know what's going on, I think we need to look at the shape of the board," Burchett said.

Ray said the controversy is putting a spot light on what the organization does. "I think it's been a great opportunity for us to get our message out in terms of what we do," she said. "I think the meeting with the county commission (Monday) was tremendous in that they learned a lot of the complete information as opposed to some of the misinformation that is out there."

When asked if she thinks she makes too much money, Ray said, "I think that, I look at it in terms of what are the results that we're producing and how do those correlate, and I'm very proud of what we've been able to produce."

Ray points to the three percent increase in hotel-motel stays since she's been CEO. Her organization gets 45% of the five percent tax on rented rooms. 

Conventions the KTSC has recruited, and national and local publicity generated by the organization are just some of the indicators she pointed to in saying the marketing works.

"I think that the types of groups that we're getting, the numbers of groups that we're getting, they've all increased. The economic impact of groups that we're bringing in is increasing. So as a result, we're providing for this community jobs, and taxes, and the governments can then look at tourism as it should be looked at, as part of the economic development team," Ray said.

She also said when measuring the organization's success, they don't count every person who stays in a hotel room, only those KTSC has worked to recruit.

She says what the corporation does has positive ripple effects for the local economy.

"Specifically did I talk to every person that stayed in a hotel? Absolutely not, but if I've created an environment, if I've packaged the assets in such a way that people say, you know what that's where I think I want to go to either attend a convention or see a sporting event, that's what's we're trying to do," Ray said.

Everything from the sights and sounds of the region to the unique people are examples Ray says are selling points, and KTSC does not do blanket advertising.

"It's not a shotgun approach. It's a very targeted approach. That has proved to be successful in doing the business that way as opposed to the old way, the shotgun approach of sending out information and hoping somebody bites. So I think it's more involved than putting an ad in the paper and hope somebody comes. There's a lot more to it than that," she explained.

Even if Ray could prove she's the reason millions of tourist dollars have poured into the county, Mayor Burchett said her salary still isn't acceptable.

"No. I'm not convinced. I've read the facts and figures," he added. "The bottom line is the bottom line to me. I think it's too much money and I've told Gloria that."

"It's her job and his job. We've got both mayors here to respond to the citizens that are saying they think it sounds excessive," Ray said. "I would be surprised if they did not do it because they're both professional. They're very good people and they'll do their job, ask the right questions, and we look forward to those conversations."

Knox County's contract with KTSC expires in 2016, but Burchett said his law department is going over it now and considering all the county's options.

The mayor is also preparing to appoint two members to open seats on the organization's board, which he believes needs to shrink considerably in size.

Ray says her team recruited and signed 173 groups in 2011, resulting in $145 million in economic impact.

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