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Common sense isn't clicking with board

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The click can be a powerful tool.Applied to a computer mouse, used in conjunction with keyboard strokes, its potential is virtually limitless. The click can serve as a gateway to vast amounts of valuable information and less useful updates on the Kardashians.

Too bad the VisitPittsburgh board treats the click as an activity too hazardous for most people to try without risking serious injury. The tourism agency could have saved money recently by lifting its apparent policy restricting the maneuver to only those employees wearing heavily layered protective garb.

VisitPittsburgh hired a consultant to examine its employee salaries, which some elected officials labeled excessive. The criticism isn't surprising, considering the best-known convention Pittsburgh attracts annually is the Anthrocon, an event that floods Downtown streets with people dressed as wolves and unicorns.

The agency's board wants to determine whether the compensation paid to high-level administrators such as outgoing Executive Chairman Joseph McGrath, who pulled in $386,000 in 2011, is, not to resort to technical jargon, freaking ridiculous. Ideally, the determination would have occurred before the salaries were paid, but some value exists in contemplating shutting the door even if the barn is long devoid of horses.

VisitPittsburgh hasn't revealed what the study will cost. Such reticence to disclose public information is a telltale sign that an agency that probably is overpaying its executives realizes that it is probably overpaying a consultant to determine that it probably is overpaying its executives.

The consultant expenditure will prove excessive no matter what its cost when you consider the salary review easily could be done in-house if the board only would unleash the click. Want me to prove it? Very well.

With just a few clicks on my computer, I found a March 22 report on tourism bureau CEO salaries in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Does it provide apples-to-apples comparisons to Pittsburgh? No. Many tourism bureaus have only a CEO. Until McGrath retires in June, VisitPittsburgh has an executive chairman and a CEO: Craig Davis, who made $225,000 in 2011.

Still, the report contains plenty of relevant information. McGrath, the agency's unquestioned head for more than two decades, pulled in less in 2011 than tourism bureau heads in Los Angeles ($535,295), San Francisco ($441,000) and San Diego ($435,000), but more than his counterparts in Chicago ($375,000), Washington ($344,000) and Las Vegas ($225,000).

Whether you believe McGrath deserved to make more than the heads of tourism bureaus in much larger markets depends largely on the value you place on wolves, unicorns and other furry creatures parading around the convention center. But no one should believe VisitPittsburgh needs to pay a consultant to unearth information easily accessible via something Anthrocon attendees would be thrilled to have at their gathering.

A mouse.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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