G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloria!

Plaque outside of the offices of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation

Well, I don’t really feel like I have a choice but to acknowledge that one of the biggest news stories of the new year in the city is happening downtown. We’ve actually had the two biggest stories, but I’ll leave the one at the other end of Gay Street for another day. It started as a pretty big story and then exploded onto the front pages and it’s being talked about by everybody interested in Knoxville.

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t very familiar with the name “Gloria Ray,” until the news stories. I knew I’d heard it someplace, but it wasn’t as if I was very aware of her. Interestingly, the “not knowing” part of the story is part of the reason it is so striking. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m at many events and I’ve met many of the people downtown, some powerful, most not so much, and I don’t know her. But the “not knowing” that really blew me away was that in a recent article in Metropulse, Jack Neely acknowledged that he doesn’t know her! When I read that article, I realized the story was about more than simply how much money she made.

But then, there is the money. It was initially reported to be just over $400,000 to direct the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation. That was before some of the more recent documents revealed that with incentives and retention bonuses, it is set to swell to much more than that. No director in comparable cities in our region comes close to that salary. Hardly anyone in our county makes that much money.

The issue also arises that a large portion of the money comes from the entertainment tax, which brings in the issue of city funds. Questions about the appropriateness of the salary via our taxes and the question of return on that money have also arisen. Much of the “tourism” that seems to have fueled her bonuses – which are in themselves larger than most of us make in salary in a year – appears to have come from sources like increased hotel occupancy due to the influx of workers after our hail storms last spring. I guess you could say God was on her side.

Knoxville Sports and Tourism Building

I’m no politician, but it doesn’t take an astute observer to recognize that her time is ending. Both mayors have called for her resignation and the writing seems to be on the wall. It’s pretty amazing, really, to consider that she was once an icon of sorts for her work with the Lady Vols program and that just a short year and a half ago she had a building named after her. Ironically, that building has become a symbol of excess and, possibly, negligence.

So what now? Again, I’m no expert or in any way privy to the ins and outs of tourism or the city. I think I do my part to promote Knoxville, but that’s as far as my involvement goes. My opinion therefore is just that and it is based on little more than what I’ve read about the situation and what I know about the city. It seems to me that the “sports” part of her job is unnecessary. Does she really get people to come into town for UT sports? Does anyone believe that? The other cities don’t include that portion in their job descriptions and neither should we.

That said, I do see a function for someone to promote the city and to promote tourism and the use of  our convention center which apparently hosts mostly local events. What would happen if we got a young, incredibly energetic and charismatic person in that position say for $150,000? Knoxville has done very well with, apparently, little help from Gloria Ray. Replace her with a dynamo who will promote our city feverishly and let’s see what happens! Oh, and let’s encourage the person to introduce him or herself to Jack Neely on the first day on the job.