Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Charles Harris today was given by the organization’s board a one-time $105,000 bonus. The board overwhelmingly approved the bonus, but votes by members fell short of approving a salary increase.
Harris said he met and exceeded all goals the board established for him last year. That included more revenue and better exposure for the Reno area.
“We hadn’t applied for accreditation [with Destinations International] since 2014,” he said. “We went through more than 100 points to submit for consideration among destination executives, and we were accredited in June, thus making us one of the most upstanding or accredited recognized in our industry.”
The board was obligated to approve the bonus if those goals were achieved.
Board member and developer lobbyist Jessica Sferrazza supported the bonus but not the merit increase. She also criticized RSCVA for transparency concerns.
“I do have an issue with the community engagement portion of the goals. I have been very vocal about being transparent,” she said. “I think the not having access on the Zoom – that’s the one I’m struggling with, quite frankly, because … that came from staff, that didn’t come from the board to limit that community engagement and public participation.”
That was in reference to meetings not being live streamed for members of the public, a decision RSCVA only this week changed after being criticized by open government advocates.
Sferrazza said board members were not aware of, nor did most of them support, not having their meetings streamed live, something RSCVA stopped doing in January. She said she only learned about it from reading This Is Reno.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said after the meeting. “We should be making it easy for people.” She also said she is advocating for live, online public comments, which RSCVA no longer offers.
All board members approved the $105,000 bonus, which is 35% of his salary, except Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.
She said he makes too much money.
“I think it’s egregious. It’s outrageous,” she said. “We have a responsibility when it comes to being fiscally conservative with how we … structure these types of contracts.”
Reno-Sparks Chamber CEO Ann Silver said she supported both the bonus and merit increase.
“To suggest that Mr. Harris met and exceeded every single goal and that the comments were, I would say, 75% positive, and then to deny a merit increase doesn’t really square with what I know in terms of performance evaluations for employees – period,” she said. “I think we should have looked at merit first, and then bonus, but that’s not the way it was put to us.”
An anonymous survey of RSCVA staff about Harris revealed that he is widely supported by his staff, though one respondent repeatedly criticized the survey questions.
“In the areas that he is expert in, he is very good,” one staff member said. “In the areas that he is not the ‘expert’ at, he allows staff to do what they are supposed to do to advance the organization in the right direction.”
An anonymous board member survey was also positive but, in some places, was more critical.
One board member wrote:
“Charles can improve by not delegating CEO responsibilities to staff. He should be doing work with the team instead of isolating himself and assigning duties beyond the scope of staff to RSCVA employees. Opposing opinions should be valued instead of retaliated against.
“Threatening legal action because of differing opinions is counterproductive and works against the success of the organization. Board members should be addressed directly instead of going through legal [counsel] for communication.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.