Visitors Bureau Hires Chairman’s Daughter

Donna-Bailey-TaylorBy Mickey Lamm and Oonagh McQuarrie 
Part 2 of WTSB News – Dunn Daily Record Investigation

-Chairman Votes To Give Visitors Bureau President 10% Pay Raise After Hiring His Daughter 

-Hiring Violated Johnston County Nepotism Policy 

-Vote Held In “Improperly Closed Meeting” according to NC Open Government Coalition 

Click here for Part 1  

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau’s (JCVB) hiring of its chairman’s daughter earlier this year has raised questions about hiring practices at the county agency. The hiring was followed by a 10 percent pay raise for the president of the visitors bureau.

In February of this year, Ashby Brame, the daughter of Johnston County Visitors Bureau Chairman Ernie Brame, was hired to the newly-restructured marketing and public relations manager position by president and CEO of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, Donna Bailey-Taylor. According to minutes from the February meeting, no discussion was held about the hiring of the chairman’s daughter.

“The marketing/public relations manager’s job has been filled, as Ashby Brame will join the staff on Feb. 17,” the minutes read.

On April 8, seven weeks after the hiring of his daughter and after meeting in closed session, Mr. Brame voted to give Ms. Bailey-Taylor a 10 percent pay raise. The motion passed 7-to-1. The decision was ostensibly made in closed session, but no record of the reason for the closed session exists in the minutes from that meeting. Mr. Brame did not recuse himself from the vote. Ms. Bailey-Taylor’s increase took her salary from $78,151.32 to $86,000.04.

Bailey-Taylor defended the hiring saying Chairman Brame is not an employee of Johnston County and does not directly supervise Johnston County Visitors Bureau staff.

“Under state law and tourism authority personnel policy, the hiring of Ashby Brame as an employee was legal and appropriate. Ernie Brame is not an employee of the visitors bureau, but a volunteer board member, and does not supervise any of the employees,” Ms. Bailey-Taylor said. “The president of the visitors bureau hires, manages and fires the staff as needed or warranted. All procedures in hiring the position were handled through the Johnston County Human Resources Department.”

The Johnston County Human Resources Department did not handle all aspects of Ms. Brame’s hiring, according to Lu Hickey, the Johnston County HR director.

“The HR department posts the job vacancies; however, Johnston County Visitors Bureau is responsible for all hiring decisions. My understanding from Donna is that they have their own nepotism policy,” Ms. Hickey said in an email. “If this position were a county position, Ms. Brame would not have been eligible for hire unless her father was no longer a member Johnston County Visitors Bureau.”

Mr. Brame said Ms. Bailey-Taylor had mentored his daughter prior to her being hired.

“In November or October or whenever it was, there was a voluntary resignation of a current employee from the tourism authority and Donna had mentored my daughter for seven or eight years, through her undergraduate work at UNC-Asheville and through her MBA work at ECU,” Mr. Brame said. “When this lady resigned. Donna encouraged (Ms. Brame) to apply for the job. Once Donna did that I stayed clear of it until the offer was made. I think her work so far speaks for itself.”

Mr. Brame denied any nepotism at work at the JCVB, and that Ms. Bailey-Taylor’s raise had any connection to her hiring of the chairman’s daughter.

“(Ms. Bailey-Taylor’s raise) is something we had been discussing for a long time that put her in the 52nd percentile of county visitors bureaus her size,” Mr. Brame said. “There is no nepotism here and the pay raise — her  work speaks for itself. I had no idea what her pay raise was until my daughter came home and told me.”

Ms. Bailey-Taylor said the Johnston County Visitors Bureau will look into any policy changes that need to be made.

“With regard to several policy questions, we have discovered that our policies likely need to be updated,” she said. “It has come to the attention of the president of the visitors bureau that work is needed to review and revise the human resources policy, the travel policy, and to adopt credit card use procedures using recommendations of the Johnston County internal auditor. These issues concerning policies will be addressed immediately by the executive committee and leadership of the visitors bureau.”

Ashby Brame was given a starting salary of $39,999.96 when she was hired by Bailey-Taylor.  Ms. Brame received a salary increase on July 1st and is now paid $40,899.96.  She is now the third highest paid employee out of the 5 full-time positions at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau.  

Vote Held In “Improperly Closed Meeting”
According to Jonathan Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition, there were several problems with the way the Johnston County Visitors Bureau Board conducted themselves at the April meeting. Mr. Jones said, “It is fair to say that the minutes for the open session are inadequate and appear to reflect an improperly closed meeting.”

Mr. Jones said the board did not follow the technical requirements of the open meeting laws. If they did, Mr. Jones said, they were not properly reflected in the minutes. “They have to state the reason they’re going into closed session.”

Click here for Part 1  Johnston County Visitors Bureau