Emails reveal Hattiesburg Convention Center members avoiding on- - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

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Emails reveal Hattiesburg Convention Center members avoiding on-camera interviews

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Newly obtained emails reveal board members and the executive director discussing how they could avoid an on-camera interview. Source: WDAM Newly obtained emails reveal board members and the executive director discussing how they could avoid an on-camera interview. Source: WDAM
HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

Around the time WDAM was requesting on-camera interviews with members of the Hattiesburg Tourism and Convention Commission they were simultaneously collaborating on strategies to avoid answering questions on camera. 

MOBILE USERS: View the emails here. 

This all came to light Thursday when more email exchanges between board members and the executive director were obtained through public records requests. 

In an email sent on 7/8/16 from Executive Director Rick Taylor to board members, Bud Kirkpatrick and Catherine Price, Taylor thanked the board members for taking, "the confrontation" off of him.

"Bud and Cathie:

As I noted in my prior email, I think your suggestion on media handling is fantastic. It takes a worry of confrontation off of me. Thanks for talking it through and coming up with this method."

In another email sent to all board members on 7/7/16, Taylor wrote:

"Should I be contacted, my thought was to ask for any questions in writing so I can understand precisely what information is requested and thus, be able to supply a correct answer."

On 7/12/16, Price sent an email to Kirkpatrick and Taylor stating:

"Also, does our board operate under the open meetings law? I would hate for them to start coming to our meetings. Think about this and let me know what your feelings are."

To date, On Your Side has made numerous requests to Taylor for an on-camera interview, and they all have been denied. 

Both commissions do operate under open meetings laws and the media and public are welcome to attend. 

All of these emails reference an on-going Seven On Your Side investigation into questionable spending of tax dollars by the Hattiesburg Convention Center and the Hattiesburg Tourism Center, along with a 2015 investigation that revealed high-end expenses such as hotels, meals and alcohol that was funded by tax dollars. 

A year later, spending habits were still present, and our investigation uncovered a hidden $30,000 bonus to Taylor.

WDAM's recent investigation revealed that when people dine at a restaurant or stay at a hotel in Hattiesburg, they’re helping fund the bonus that already  sits on top of a $208,404 base salary. 

Several hours after our investigation aired, Matthew Godfrey, Director of Sales and Advertising for the Convention Center, issued a statement on behalf of the board. 

Media partners of VISITHATTIESBURG and the Hattiesburg Convention Commission,

Below, please find a statement from both Commissions regarding a recent news report.

Numerous factual errors and personnel issues regarding individuals no longer affiliated with our organizations have been presented today via WDAM in an attempt to discredit the Hattiesburg Convention Commission and the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission to its stakeholders, including the public. 

Our collective organizations are diligent in abiding by the laws, policies and ethical boundaries set forth by our state and governing bodies. The aggressive promotion and growth of our great community of Hattiesburg has and will always remain our top priority.

While some may be down on Hattiesburg, we are up. It is our home. Our passion. Our commitment.

Sincerely,

Matthew Godfrey

WDAM 7 News stands by its investigation. All of the information reported was obtained through public records requests, and included but was not limited to credit card statements, itemized receipts, claims dockets and emails.

Seven On Your Side leaves the invitation for an on-camera interview open to Taylor or any board members. 

Copyright WDAM 2016. All rights reserved.

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    An On Your Side investigation revealed that when people dine at a restaurant or stay at a hotel in Hattiesburg, they’re helping fund a $30,000 bonus for the executive director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission. 

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    An On Your Side investigation revealed that when people dine at a restaurant or stay at a hotel in Hattiesburg, they’re helping fund a $30,000 bonus for the executive director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission. 

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