RSCVA boss Chris Baum fired
Chris Baum was fired Friday as president/CEO of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.
On a 5-2 vote, the board terminated Baum, in the first year of a three-year renewed contract, without cause. The action came nearly four years after he was hired to run the region's top tourism agency and its $34 million annual budget following a tumultuous year-long search. An interim CEO is expected to be named next week.
There was little discussion before the board's vote, and Baum was present but did not speak. Under terms of his contract, he will receive six months of severance pay on his $234,090-a-year salary.
During Baum's tenure, the Reno-Tahoe region saw a modest turnaround in hotel room occupancy rates as well as daily room rates in downtown Reno, which set records for the past three Augusts at more than $100 a night on average. But his detractors have cited leadership's lack of long-term vision and the need to take the agency in a new direction.
Fred Findlen, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village and one of two board members voting against termination, defended Baum's record, saying, "I don't see anything negative. I see positives, strong leadership."
The other no vote came from Sparks City Councilman Ed Lawson, who looked at Baum at the board table and said, "I'm sorry, Chris, that we're losing you. I'm a little disappointed."
Board member Dennis McGovern, general manager of Legends in Sparks, abstained, citing issues with the "legitimacy" of the motion to terminate Baum. Board member Nat Carasali, a partner at Peppermill Casinos, was absent.
Baum came to Reno from Detroit, where he was senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. During the interview process for the RSCVA job in December 2011, some board members said they wanted someone with sales experience to lead the agency out of its recessionary doldrums.
In his interview, Baum told the board the Reno-Tahoe market is undermarketed and a "misunderstood" destination, adding, "The bones are here. We need to put flesh on it in a compelling way."
No one voting to fire Baum spoke on Friday, but in previous board meetings, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve alluded to changes needed in the direction of the agency, given Reno-Sparks' resurgent economy and rising status as a destination with major businesses coming to the region.
Board member John Farahi, CEO of the parent company of the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa who was not on the board when Baum was first hired, has repeatedly demanded more accountability and has criticized the agency for not "getting the job done." Farahi is also the prime mover of a long-term strategic growth plan for the agency now underway that will be completed by year's end.
More recently, Baum was criticized in September when he told the board the inaugural Blue Jeans Jam, an early October special event sponsored by the RSCVA to promote the culture of denim and its roots in 1870s Reno, lost key vendors and was being downsized with a total cost to the agency of an estimated $125,000.
After Friday's special board meeting, Farahi said the next CEO must have top-tier experience and prove his or her worth to the board.
"The issue is track record. It must be a CEO or second in command," he said. "A proven track record. That's the issue. Not 'I can do it,' but, 'Show me you've done it.' "
At its regular monthly meeting next Thursday, the board will name an interim CEO. Two RSCVA executives's names were suggested Friday by board members: Joe Kelley, vice president of facilities who sat as interim CEO before Baum was hired, and Brian Rivers, director of finance.
The board will also begin the search for a permanent CEO, and discussion Friday centered on concerns over the lengthy process and drama the last time following then-CEO Ellen Oppenheim's resignation in February 2011.
The board had hired the Minnesota-based firm SearchWide to find candidates, and in July of that year the board tabbed Utah executive Mark White as the RSCVA's new CEO. But a week later, White, citing family reasons, stunned the board by declining the offer.
The search was renewed and in December 2011, Baum, one of two finalists, was hired unanimously after a 90-minute interview to be the fourth CEO in the previous 15 years.
Now with Baum gone, "The board needs to focus on moving forward. I hope we can expedite the process," Chair Bob Lucey, a Washoe County commissioner, said Friday.
Added Schieve, "We have one opportunity to get it right."
Farahi said the board must find another search firm, saying SearchWide did a "terrible job."
Schieve suggested the RSCVA "reach out" to its counterpart in Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, saying, "They are the most successful (agency) in the country. We need to build relationships with them. That can be extremely advantageous for us. Who wouldn't want to love and promote Reno?"
McGovern agreed, saying, "What's happened has happened. It's time for this board to move on. We have one chance. My recommendation is we make the right decision but do it quick."
TERMINATING CHRIS BAUM
How the RSCVA board voted:
Yes: Cindy Carano, John Farahi, Bob Lucey, Hillary Schieve, Tony Mavrides
No: Ed Lawson, Fred Findlen
Abstained: Dennis McGovern
Absent: Nat Carasali
Naming an interim CEO; starting search for permanent CEO
When: 9 a.m., Thursday Oct. 22
Where: RSCVA board room, 4001 S. Virginia St., Reno