Dining expenditures by VisitLex scrutinized amidst broader spending concerns

Lexington, KY — A recent investigation by The Lexington Times has revealed substantial spending on dining by VisitLex, financed through the transient room tax assessed on hotel accommodations in Fayette County. This spending is part of broader financial activities that have raised eyebrows, including costly trips to Las Vegas, Italy, and an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. Obtained through the Kentucky Open Records Act, the details presented here spotlight just a fraction of the questionable spending by the publicly funded entity.

VisitLex, responsible for promoting tourism in Lexington, appears to have frequently patronized high-end restaurants, accruing thousands in taxpayer dollars on meals alone. Records show numerous transactions at upscale venues such as Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Cole’s 735 on Main, and Dudley’s on Short, with single meals often exceeding hundreds of dollars.

For example, between July 2022 and March 2024, a total of $6,936.84 was spent at Lockbox, with an individual transaction reaching up to $900.48. Similarly, Dudley’s on Short saw spending of $11,710.55, highlighting a pattern of lavish spending that seems incongruent with the entity’s public service mandate.

The following list highlights a portion of the noteworthy transactions:

  • Lockbox
    • Number of Transactions: 30
    • Total Amount: $6,936.84
  • Granddam Manchester
    • Number of Transactions: 17
    • Total Amount: $3,267.01
  • Nic and Norman’s
    • Number of Transactions: 9
    • Total Amount: $1,402.95
  • Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse
    • Number of Transactions: 3
    • Total Amount: $370.92
  • Cole’s 735 Main
    • Number of Transactions: 4
    • Total Amount: $2,488.55
  • Brewery Transactions (including Wise Bird Cider Co.)
    • Number of Transactions: 31
    • Total Amount: $1,291.66
  • Dudley’s on Short
    • Number of Transactions: 29
    • Total Amount: $11,710.55

This series of expenditures forms part of a larger narrative that The Lexington Times is examining, following suspicions of broader fiscal irresponsibility. Earlier this year, revelations surfaced about VisitLex’s use of public funds to distribute $284,000 in bonuses, a move that has sparked debate over its constitutional propriety. Further intensifying the scrutiny is the fact that the President of VisitLex earns over $100,000 per year more than the Mayor of Lexington, with a salary of $282,536.

The emerging details suggest that a deeper inquiry might be necessary to ensure accountability and appropriate use of public resources. The revelation about VisitLex’s spending practices, including lavish dining expenses and substantial executive compensation, harkens back to the disconcerting echoes of the 2008 Lexington airport board scandal. In that scandal, there were revelations of egregious fiscal mismanagement, where executives spent over $500,000 on unauthorized travel, meals, entertainment, and other questionable expenses over a three-year period.

Clipping from the Lexington Herald-Leader, Wednesday, October 21, 2009. (Newspapers.com)

VisitLex executives were not immediately available for comment prior to publication. The VisitLex Board of Directors is appointed by Mayor Linda Gorton and meets every third Wednesday of the month at 8:30 a.m. at the VisitLex offices. In total, VisitLex employees accumulated charges totaling $427,201.15 between July 2022 and March 2024. A full database of the transactions is available here.

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Paul Oliva is the Lexington Times Editor Emeritus. He grew up in Lexington.