Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau down to 'a few' finalists for new leader

Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau down to 'a few' finalists for new leader

December 5th, 2017 by Tim Omarzu in Business Around the Region

Tennessee Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board in the newspaper's offices on Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga Convention and Visitor's Bureau (CVB) should soon announce its pick for a new president and CEO after a search committee whittled down a list of more than 40 applicants to just a few finalists.

"We are at least a week or two away," said Keith Sanford, chairman of the tourism agency.

Sanford declined to say exactly how many finalists there are or whether they're local or from out of town.

"We're down to a few. That's all I'm going to say. We're actively interviewing," Sanford said.

The CVB is seeking a replacement for Bob Doak, who led the tourism bureau for 15 years but will retire in February. While Doak was head of the bureau, tourism in Hamilton County more than doubled to more than $1 billion a year, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

But over the past year, questions about CVB employees' travel expenses and spending on meals to entertain potential clients have been raised by Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd and by State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

Gardenhire called for a state audit that in October faulted the CVB for such things as not keeping detailed receipts for 36 percent of the $378,298 in credit card charges made by CVB employees from July 2015 through June 2016.

Boyd said Monday the process of hiring a new CVB president and CEO should be at least as transparent as the effort was to find a new Hamilton County Superintendent of Schools, which included public interviews of finalists, because the CVB gets most of its funding from the county's hotel room tax.

The bureau gets about 87 percent of its annual budget from the county hotel-motel bed tax — estimated to reach $8.2 million this fiscal year.

"It should be a public, transparent process, and there is nothing transparent about it," Boyd said. "There's nobody on [the search committee] representing the public."

Sanford said the candidates' identities are secret so their current employers don't learn they're looking for a new job.

"I'd say we have to protect the privacy of our candidates over transparency at this point, because [candidates] have requested that," Sanford said.

The CVB's search committee includes members of its executive committee – Sanford, hoteliers Mitch Patel, Ken DeFoor and Jon Kinsey, and Lisa Maragnano, the executive director of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority. Other search committee members are restaurateur Allen Corey, Hodgen Mainda, EPB's vice president of community development; Kim White, president and CEO of the River City Company; and Tom Griscom, a founding partner of the public relations and marketing firm Q Strategies and former Times Free Press executive editor.

The search committee will make a recommendation or recommendations for a new president and CEO, but the executive committee will make the final decision, Sanford said.

The CVB's new leader is expected to start work by Feb. 1, 2018.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or ForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Tom Griscom was the Chattanooga Times Free Press' former managing editor. Griscom was the Chattanooga Times Free Press' former executive editor. Updated at Dec. 5, 2017, at 1:30 p.m.