The Commercial Appeal has a report on the business dealings of Kevin Kane, executive director of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, described as “the highly visible, taxpayer-financed nonprofit corporation that promotes Memphis tourism.”
After landing the job in 1991, Kane found that established businessmen such as restaurateur Gerald “Bud’’ Chittom and concert ticket seller Charlie Ryan wanted to partner with him in ventures that included buying apartment and office buildings and opening nightclubs.
Today, through those partnerships, Kane has financial interests in four businesses on Beale Street, the Downtown entertainment district that is intensely promoted by the visitors bureau, and he co-owns a building that houses another popular Downtown eatery, Bangkok Alley.
The Beale Street businesses, alone, generated more than $11 million in gross revenue last year.
Kane, 56, says his side businesses pose no conflict to his duties at the visitors bureau, which receives $7.8 million a year in local hotel-motel taxes — 94 percent of its budget — and pays him a $237,000 annual salary.
As he’s maintained since one of his Beale Street properties, Club 152, was briefly shuttered by authorities in May for illegal drug sales, Kane said he routinely discloses his outside interests to his board of directors.
“I’ve been very transparent about my investments,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, a review of the visitor bureau’s conflict-of-interest policy shows it falls short of standards found in model conflict-of-interest policies proposed by leading national nonprofit associations. For example, while the visitor bureau’s policy requires officers to disclose outside business interests, they do it with an oral report to the board, not through a written, signed report as nonprofit legal experts recommend. The visitor bureau’s policy also lacks the kind of language that forbids not only legal conflicts, but those deemed to “undermine public confidence” in a nonprofit organization.
“It stinks to high heaven,” said local government critic Joe Saino, who believes the visitor bureau’s board is too permissive with Kane. “He should not be benefiting from this. He has all these contacts down there. He’s getting a pass on this.”
Cindy Brewer, board chairwoman for the visitor bureau, said the board is revising policies to require annual, written disclosures, yet she disagrees with Saino’s characterization of permissiveness.