Emails reveal Hattiesburg Convention Center members avoiding on-camera interviews

Emails reveal Hattiesburg Convention Center members avoiding on-camera interviews

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.

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:

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,

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.