Buncombe County’s tourism director is set to receive compensation totaling up to $456,000 this fiscal year and up to $578,000 or more in 2026 under a three-year contract renewal recently approved by the tax-supported agency.

Victoria “Vic” Isley’s compensation package is roughly double that of the city and county managers, school superintendents, the county sheriff, and the Asheville police chief.

Isley, president and CEO of the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, receives:

  • A base annual salary of $300,000.
  • A yearly “incentive bonus” of up to 30 percent of her salary, or $90,000 this year.
  • A $60,000 contribution to her retirement fund that increases by $20,000 each of the next two years.
  • Six weeks paid vacation.
  • A $500 monthly car allowance.

The contract, approved in July 2023 and obtained by Asheville Watchdog, calls for annual raises each July to be determined by the TDA board, but guarantees Isley a minimum base salary of $325,000 by 2025.

She is eligible to participate in the TDA’s 401K retirement plan but also receives a “Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan” with contributions by the tourism agency that increase to $80,000 the second year and $100,000 the third year.

And if Isley stays through the end of her contract in November 2026, she will receive a retention bonus of $50,000, according to the contract.

Isley did not respond to The Watchdog’s request for comment.

Brenda Durden, TDA board chair // Photo credit: BCTDA

“When hiring Vic, the board engaged with SearchWide (Global), the leading executive search firm for the tourism industry and used industry benchmarks, including national and comparable market data, when creating her employment agreements,” said board chair Brenda Durden in an emailed response to questions. “Based upon similar organizations and budget sizes, we strongly believe our investment in leadership and staff are producing a very strong financial return for our community.”

Isley’s compensation package puts her in the “lower 25 percentile for sure” of her peers across the country, Searchwide Global CEO Mike Gamble said.

“I know you’re probably looking at it and saying ‘Gosh, that seems like a lot,”’ Gamble said. “But these jobs really have grown in sophistication and complexity. And so with someone like her with her background, I think she’s compensated very fairly, but again, she’s not in the top quadrant.”

Kathleen Mosher, the previous TDA board chair who approved Isley’s contract with a committee of the board // Photo credit: BCTDA

Kathleen Mosher, the previous TDA board chair who approved Isley’s contract with a committee of the board, said the contract was not discussed at public TDA board meetings because Isley’s position is not “publicly held.”

“To be competitive in our recruitment efforts and attract experienced candidates for a tourism market of our size, we used industry benchmarks, including national and comparable market data, to make decisions,” she said.

Mosher would not answer a question about how many other tourism agency employees earn more than $100,000 or $200,000, saying they aren’t public employees but members of a 501(c)6, a type of non-profit for business leagues, chambers of commerce and other trade organizations.

The TDA is a public body that determines how to spend the 6 percent occupancy tax that visitors pay on stays in hotels, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts in Buncombe. By law, two-thirds of the tax revenue is spent on promoting tourism and the rest on tourism-related capital projects.

The agency oversees the work of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau,  which “develops and carries out advertising, marketing, public relations, and group sales plans to inspire leisure and business travelers to visit here,” according to Explore Asheville’s website

Jen Hampton, chair of the Asheville Food and Beverage United collective that advocates for service workers, many in tourism, called Isley’s compensation package “insane.”

“My first thought is it’s just disgusting,” Hampton said. “I mean, it doesn’t seem fair. it doesn’t seem right at all.”

“There needs to be a lot less of that huge discrepancy between what the workers who generate this revenue are making and the people who are in charge of making use of that revenue,” Hampton said.

Hampton said she recently spoke to Isley and felt like she was “out of touch” with service workers’ experiences and salaries. Hampton’s group and others recently asked the TDA to commit funding to affordable housing because workers are struggling to make rent on low wages.

Isley’s original three-year contract, effective beginning when she started in December 2020, included a base salary of $245,000, a retention bonus of $45,000 if she stayed through November 2023 and an incentive bonus of up to 30 percent of her salary. Her base salary was $264,000 in 2022.

Her new contract, effective July 1, added the executive retirement plan and increased her vacation time from four to six weeks.

Isley’s incentive bonuses are based on criteria set each year by her and the board chair. A four-member “performance evaluation committee” of the board reviews Isley’s performance and determines whether she “has met the bonus criteria and how much of the incentive bonus has been earned,” according to the contract.

Isley received bonuses of $42,872 in 2021, $73,500 in 2022, and $80,850 in 2023, TDA spokeswoman Ashley Greenstein said in an email.

Isley’s compensation far exceeds that of other top Buncombe officials in charge of tax-supported agencies or governments. Here are their packages.

  • Buncombe County Manager Avril Pinder: $245,468 annual salary, four weeks vacation and a $575 monthly car allowance
  • Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell: $254,829 annual salary, more than 187 vacation hours and a $500 monthly car allowance
  • Asheville City Schools Superintendent Maggie Fehrman: $215,000 annual salary, 10 days vacation, and a $500 monthly travel allowance
  • Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Rob Jackson: $198,237 annual salary, 26 days of vacation, and a vehicle
  •  Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller: $182,338 annual salary, 14 vacation days, and a vehicle
  • Asheville Police Chief David Zack: $180,609 annual salary. An APD spokesperson told The Watchdog additional information about his other benefits would require a public records request.

The city and county managers oversee budgets considerably larger than the TDA’s $40 million – $609 million for Buncombe County and $255 million for Asheville.

Asheville Regional Airport Authority CEO Lew Bleiweis makes a higher annual salary than Isley, $335,940, but does not receive bonuses or executive retirement contributions, according to spokeswoman Tina Kinsey. // Photo credit: Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce

Asheville Regional Airport Authority CEO Lew Bleiweis makes a higher annual salary than Isley, $335,940, but does not receive bonuses or executive retirement contributions, according to spokeswoman Tina Kinsey. He receives a $1,000 monthly auto allowance.

The Watchdog requested salaries and compensation of tourism executives in the top 10 markets in North Carolina. Three responded.

Henri Fourrier, president at Greensboro Area Convention & Visitors Bureau for 26 years, told The Watchdog that he makes $191,000 annually and is eligible for a 3 percent performance bonus available to all CVB employees. He receives a company car and four weeks vacation.

Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Executive Director Lee Nettles makes $175,000 annually with no bonuses, said Diane Bognich, director of administration. Nettles receives Internet and car allowances of $450 a month, and a little over three weeks vacation, according to the organization’s paid leave chart.

Stephanie Brown, the former president of Explore Asheville and the current president of the Forsyth County Tourism Development Authority, which encompasses the Winston-Salem area, makes $215,000 annually with board-established yearly raises and up to $32,000 in bonuses, according to spokeswoman Marcheta Keefer. She receives $6,000 in an auto allowance annually and 20 days of vacation.

Isley came to the TDA in December 2020 in the early months of a global pandemic that saw travel plummet. Tourism began to rebound in 2021 and set records in Buncombe in 2022. But lodging sales are down this year, and local businesses have reported a drop in business.

Isley, a graduate of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s business school, previously worked at the tourism agencies in Durham; Tampa Bay; Washington, D.C.; and Bermuda.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the president of the Forsyth County Tourism Development Authority. She is Stephanie Brown.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email skestin@avlwatchdog.org. Andrew R. Jones is a Watchdog investigative reporter. Email arjones@avlwatchdog.org. To show your support for this vital public service go to avlwatchdog.org/donate.

112 replies on “TDA director’s salary, benefits top $450,000”

    1. No, not the tourists. The only people who matter in Buncombe county are the opportunists who make money off of the tourists and the other consumers who have been enticed to spend their money in this destination.

      1. The disparity Hampton noted, “between what the workers who generate this revenue are making and the people who are in charge of making use of that revenue” is not only insane, it’s crushingly insensitive and tone deaf.

        1. I once ‘attended’ an online/Zoom TDA meeting during the Covid lockdown. I did so because an agenda item was about safety and security. I optimistically thought they would discuss the abuse employees in the tourism industry were getting from tourists angry that they couldn’t get a table at a restaurant because of fewer tables and places being booked. Or the restrictions they had to deal with in hotels, etc. I had friends working at some hotels during this time, and they even got threats. Well, it seems the TDA was discussing the safety and security of tourists, not our tourism employees. I entered an item into the ‘Chat’ column regarding my issue, and the facilitator completely skipped over it. I was reminded of this when I read the comment about Isley seeming to be out of touch with our tourism employees. Wow. Just Wow.

    2. Agreed. It’s really starting to just feel sad. I can’t even be angry about it anymore because it’s gone on for so long with no hopeful outlook that residents will ever become a priority. Just sad and disappointed.

  1. Municipal salaries across the country have gone off the scale. The salary plus the benefits are not sustainable and need to be ratcheted down to a more reason level. If not the system will financially implode. Tax payers have had enough.

    1. Isley isn’t a public employee and didn’t sign up for any job other than the one she was recruited to come here for. From the article: “Isley’s compensation package puts her in the “lower 25 percentile for sure” of her peers across the country, Searchwide Global CEO Mike Gamble said.” I swear, we know how to eat our own around here sometimes.

      1. Isley is not “our own.” She is not invested in the residents. Her priority is to bring more people here, not to keep those already here happy.

        1. She is a resident, and from North Carolina. Her job is to generate visitor spending to support local businesses, which helps create and sustain thousands of jobs for people who live here.

          1. Not really if you aren’t paying the employees a living wage. And those same employees can’t afford housing which adds to the disparity.

      2. So is her salary not paid with public taxed money? She’s working for the public, the city of Asheville. With retention, bonuses, and other perks. How is this not a public position?

        1. Isley isn’t an employee of the City or the County. She’s an at-will employee of Explore Asheville and the tourism development authority.

          1. The article says “The TDA is a public body” and a “tax-supported agency”, yet the employees aren’t public? Man, talk about obfuscation. Reminds me of a newspaper printing a list of employees and salaries from a nearby county, yet not reporting the ones highly paid as contractors for years. Those contractors are really employees paid with tax dollars, just not from payroll budget, so the reporter didn’t get the whole, true picture.

      3. Insiders supporting insiders. I would like to see the actual figures nationwide from cities the size of Asheville that place her in the bottom 25% of tourism leaders. I bet it doesn’t exist.

  2. Absurd!

    Shame on the board that approved the contract.

    Greedy group who ignores the community and service workers in the first degree.

  3. What a joke. Anyone with a google bar and guidestar account can see Asheville is getting bang for its buck from a North Carolinian.

    1. It will take me 9 years to make her base pay, so she has no idea what being a real worker in the tourism industry is about. The TDA should not only be upset with themselves but should be clamoring for businesses here to keep up with wages so workers can stay housed citizens for the tourist they desperately need us to cater toward. Shame, shame, shame.

  4. Great story. Had no idea the salary and huge benefits were that much. Might need to rein things in a bit. Keep up your Great Reporting !!
    Bill McGuire
    Blk. Mtn.

  5. So the teachers & cops—- the people who matter the most—- get the short end of the stick. Great gathering up of details. I’d like to hear exactly what is her job description and I’d like to know who is associated with being paid somehow by people/companies based in FL.

  6. I have lived here for 35 + years and for most of those years Asheville has been a wonderful place to raise a family and call home. It’s time to focus on those who live here and try to pay taxes, support our schools and volunteer – not on bringing in more people who love what we have to offer and leave. This organization has outlived its original purpose and needs to be restructured to meet our current needs, not those of outside investors.

  7. The statement was “not publicly held“….wth ….who pays for it…the wizard of Oz?…. totally out of hand…..should be put up for a vote by the peons that pay for it…. it’ll only get worse…..most cities are on a downside…hello…

    1. Wouldn’t it be AMAZING if the residents of Asheville were paid based on their experience, credentials, and results?
      There absolutely is something to see here when there is this much of an imbalance.

  8. Is there a potential conflict of interest for board members to vote on contract renewal if they were part of this excursion…?

    “On top of the $1.3 million Asheville paid to sponsor the US Open tennis tournament, the public tourism board spent more than $70,000 in expenses that included catering and travel for their staff, board members and guests…”


  9. Isley is not a government employee; why the comparison to city and county officials?!? Apples and oranges;

    1. Andrew, thanks for the question. While you’re correct that she’s not a government employee, the TDA is a tqx-supported agency. As our story point out, the city and county managers oversee budgets considerably larger than the TDA’s $40 million – $609 million for Buncombe County and $255 million for Asheville. So we believe it’s relevant to show what those managers, along with others, make in comparison.

      1. Still seems like apples and oranges. Visitors pay the occupancy tax not local residents. Like it or not, North Carolina has guidelines as to how occupancy tax is used and invested. A simple google search surfaces multiple male leaders of similar organizations earning $700K+.
        If Isley’s first name was Victor, would this even be a story?

      2. In line with Andrew’s question, I think a more interesting story would have been to compare compensation with performance.

        Whether we like it not, tourism brings many economic benefits to our community, including additional funds for county and city budgets. It doesn’t work the other way around.

        1. Just wait, when the community starts to not care about giving back, investing in Asheville, or clamoring to tourists for little pay, there will be no service worthy of providing. Look at the city right now. It’s not safe to stroll around in, there are people camped at every traffic light, trash everywhere. The underserved population is growing and will continue to do so. So tell me how not taking care of the community first benefits tourism? I personally think it is the other way around. When people love where they live others become interested and want to visit. Billboards or pages of glossy ads have never influenced me to visit anywhere. It’s word of mouth.

          1. We lived there a couple of years ago and loved it. We have since stopped recommending it as residence or location to visit due to the problems mentioned in this and other articles/comments.

    1. She isn’t paid by the county. She is paid via transient taxes collected from lodging guests in Buncombe County.

  10. Obscene. So wrong on so many levels. This whole concept of the TDA needs to be reviewed. How much more can our city along with the collapsing infrastructure take?

    1. This place will absolutely implode. It already is. We can observe how quickly Asheville grew in popularity, while the quality of life for most of its residents was simultaneously declining. The artists, musicians, performers, the lifeblood of what Asheville once was were all priced out and left. The “Keep Asheville Weird” pride in one’s community has now evolved into “Trashville.”

  11. This is an obscene contract for the value the community receives. I’m interested to know exactly what someone does on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to merit this compensation. The region has advertised itself for decades between the Great Smokies National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Biltmore House without out-of-state billboards or magazine ads.

  12. Her salary with bonuses is just over 1% of their annual budget. Her base salary aligns with the typical CEO remuneration, which is around 1% of the annual budget. Considering the gender pay gap, this seems like a win for Asheville. Two critical articles about women leading major organizations in town seems much more concerning. Call me progressive, but I think it’s a move in the right direction.

    1. Agreed. It’s sad that an award-winning reporter would write this crabs in a bucket story. And why is a non-profit media outlet writing clickbait headlines? Expect that from ACT but disappointing here.

  13. Maybe those of us who are trying to live here should ask the question: How much tourism is enough? The toll it takes on our community is pretty obvious. The level of compensation for this position is just disgusting.

  14. Interesting that she gets 6 weeks of paid vacation. So she works only 46 weeks a year for that huge salary. Lounging at Capri, or Monte Carlo, or Bali, while our firemen and policemen and teachers and health care workers are struggling to make ends meet.

  15. Can a follow up report on what she’s brought into the city? If she brought $10 million in new tourism dollars, well her salary is ok.

    1. Your question is very relevant. Will the reporter follow up with figures on how much the tourism industry contributes to the local economy?

        1. Thank you for pointing to that figure. While TDA is certainly not responsible for bringing in that entire amount, it plays a part.

  16. I appreciate that, like it or not, tourism is the economic and employment engine of Asheville and the surrounding area, and also supports the local artisans who are the heart and soul of our community. But this compensation package is beyond obscene, especially in a region with such a low median payscale. I don’t care where her compensation stands nationally; the board members who approved this should be ashamed of themselves. You can’t convince me that a less experienced marketer who is very bright and creative couldn’t do the job for a less absurd package.

  17. Bravo to Vic Isley to command such an extraordinary compensation package. That doesn’t just happen without knowledge, experience, drive, sacrifice, etc. Hand in hand with this extraordinary package comes responsibility to Asheville residents to see the value of the TDA and how it adds to our quality of life. How about reporting on how the TDA benefits our community in addition to the tourists?

  18. nfpeters51

    You mentioned that tourists support artists…I am interested in knowing more about how artists’ living and studio expenses might be better supported by TDA dollars. I once worked on a local NEA grant justification package and documented that artists actually draw the tourists, but the artist community can scarcely afford to live here anymore. So how can we fix this problem as well as the unfortunate physical infrastructure deficits and the scarcity of affordable housing in general? Wouldn’t and shouldn’t a more equitable local TDA ratio and tighter advertising and operating budgets for TDA substantially help to mitigate those deficits?

  19. I believe this article doesn’t include the statistics and financial impact Ms Isley has made on tourism which is the job. For those opposed to tourism, exactly how would Asheville citizens be employed?

    1. Are you trying to say that without tourism Asheville citizens would not be employed? There are many cities and towns that do not rely on tourism in order to survive or function properly. It is my belief that most Asheville citizens are worn out by the hyper focus on tourism and constant catering to visitors when their own community is being ignored and basic meets are not being met. Tourism has not helped Asheville citizens. The article specifically said that those who work in the service industry are unable to make ends meet and are struggling to stay in Asheville.
      So, as a proponent of tourism, how exactly has it given back to those who live their daily lives here? How will Ms. Isley’s position impact me, as a resident of Asheville? How can her pay be justified by the community at large and mitigate the disgust and disappointment many are feeling right now? Really. How does more Segway tours around town help me make ends meet for my family?

    2. $450k per year? Hmm. Let’s say that the salary is $200,000 + relevant expenses, still quite generous for “development” work. The remaining $250,000 could fund over 200 parking passes ANNUALLY for downtown workers who might pay $100/mo., 0ver 400 if the rate is $50/mo.

  20. Mosher is in error. A 501c6 organization is a dues-based non-profit. The TDA is not a dues-based organization, it is tax based entity and therefore subject to the rules of government transparency.

    Many people do not realize that without tourism Asheville would be just another small mountain community. Asheville is and has always been a tourism-based economy.

    My issue is that every TDA, CVB, or whatever the acronym is for the community tourism agency, operates off different guidelines. In most states, there is a state statute that regulates the organizational structure and mission: marketing. In NC every TDA must be authorized by the state legislature, and every TDA has different guidelines. That creates a level of insane bureaucracy and micromanagement from elected officials who have better things to do. It would be nice if the Buncombe County TDA would put a proportionate amount back into the communities outside of Asheville that contribute to its success. Imagine how the lodging entities in Black Mountain feel collecting taxes that promote Asheville heads-in-beads rather than the community they are located. Maybe it’s time to divide the Buncombe County TDA into two organizations: Asheville TDA and Buncombe County TDA?

    1. Others, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel the distaste that this leaves many with is due to the imbalance of attention placed on tourism vs. residents/ community. How is Asheville giving back to those who work and live here, who have invested their livelihood and started families here? Asheville is not the gem it once was. When will the community be paid attention to? When will our needs be heard? You know something is wrong when people who live here start referring to it as “Trashville.”

  21. 1. Yes, it’s a lot of money. I wish I earned that much.
    2. We’re called a ‘tourist town’ over and over. I despise this title, but apparently it’s the truth.
    3a. That amount of money could employ 6 or 7 full-time police officers dedicated to downtown.
    3b. We live in a society that values entertainment and sports above all else. That’s why people in those industries earn so much.
    4. The TDA has a simple goal: to increase room occupancy rates and thus cash received. All their marketing goes toward this one simple goal. TDA salaries are surely pegged to this metric.
    5. I wish the TDA goals (and mindset) were slightly different–that infrastructure and salaries of essential workers, among many other things, were taken into account, but they are not.
    6. I often wonder: What’s the sweet spot for tourism? Will we know it when we see it? Has it already passed? Can we keep it from spiraling out of control?

  22. I believe a living wage in Asheville is about $17.70 an hour and $34,450 a year. I don’t begrudge the top level getting a good salary if all workers are making a decent living and sufficient money exists, but how much is staff making and what type of benefits are they enjoying? Isn’t there a ratio of how much top level makes in comparison to those at the bottom?

    As a native, I’ve always been impressed with how our area markets itself, but I did notice one problem last year. There was an “Asheville” banner big court side ad at the USOPEN. I felt proud to see my city’s name. Then I talked to my tennis friends in other regions and asked them if they had seen the Asheville USOPEN court side signage in Arthur Ashe stadium. Some of my tennis friends had seen the ad but thought that since players were playing in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the sign was for the stadium (a nickname there). Ugh! Wonder if adding NC to Asheville court side type ads might be valuable. Wonder if the agency has a suggestion website. Wish the agency would be more communicative with local media and citizens, as it would be nice to create more tourism success together. I appreciate this article and advertising for AVL.

    1. You bring up a great point. $34,450 should be adequate for a living wage salary. However, with the housing prices in Asheville, and the standard requirement of making three times your monthly rent, it’s just not feasible. For someone making $18/hr, working 40hr per week, the maximum rent budget recommended is $936 a month. I hopped on Craigslist real quick to see what the rental prices are right now. Was not able to find a 1br in or around Asheville for under $1,250. There was a 400sf furnished studio in Swannanoa for $950, but without a full kitchen… just a microwave and fridge. You can live in someone’s basement for around $900-1,000. Average rent is between $1,450-1,600. Just a jump from an affordable $900 rent to something $1,200 is still $300 extra per month that would otherwise cover so many other expenses.

      1. Thank you for this information “AD” and hope you can find affordable housing, though it does seem elusive. It seems unacceptable to see top level staff making so much when those working hard in entry level struggle to live.

  23. Outrageous, disgusting, absurd. At the MOST, I can see maybe half of that salary being justifiable. Thank you AVL Watchdog for bringing this matter to light.

  24. The local frustrations are not about a smart woman getting a good CEO salary nor any of the other salaries listed. They are in line with expectations of salaries of that level.

    The frustrations are about affordable workforce housing & the inability for leaders to work together on the overwhelming growth of vagrancy and petty crimes.

    COA is failing to fund basic infrastructure, the APD. They are failing to make this a priority. And council has a love hate relationship with the TDA because they do not contribute to the bottom line.

    TDA and our local leaders cannot seem to go to the legislature and negotiate for a food and beverage tax and some of the TDA monies to go back to COA to support basic infrastructure. The TDA benefits from our downtown and yet puts nothing into it due to the way monies are structured in the state of NC.

    The grants the TDA gives out are sweet, but they don’t impact our city budget.

    1. I would encourage you to reread the article, as it directly states, “The Watchdog requested salaries and compensation of tourism executives in the top 10 markets in North Carolina. Three responded.” The three responses were then included with listed salaries as $175,000 then $191,000 and finally $215,000. None even came close to the benefits and bonus package she is receiving.

  25. This article is all about “riling up” the readers, nothing more. Buried in the article is that Isley’s compensation is in the LOWER QUARTILE of tourism leaders nationwide. And again, no emphasis on the fact that no Buncombe County resident pays a penny of the occupancy tax. Lastly, no emphasis on the tens of millions of dollars the TDA invests in public projects – including McCormick field. “Visitors to Asheville save McCormick field for local residents.” Why not do a story on that, Asheville Watchdog?

    1. Not everyone is interested in baseball. For such a specific project, it really does not benefit the public at large. I am sure many of us could think of a thousand other ways to spend TWENTY THREE MILLION DOLLARS over the next twenty years… that isn’t a baseball field.

      1. You miss the point. The TDA was there to assist the city. Additionally, do you have any idea how many other projects have been completed with the assistance of the TDA? Greenways. Soccer fields. Parks. The list goes on and on.

    2. I recently went to a baseball game and loved it, but I am not happy that so much tax money is going to the facility. It seems great the way it is, but the homeless problem doesn’t seem great and that’s what I noticed leaving the baseball game.

  26. Let’s hope that at year end when incentives are calculated they are based on new marginal growth in revenue/resources and not a year-end entitlement. Afterall, that is the purpose of an “incentive”. If the industry has a decline in revenue coming to the area, no incentive should be allowed otherwise there is a flaw in the design of the incentive structure. Ms. Isley’s income is mostly funded by revenue from outside of the area and under her leadership has the opportunity to drive more revenue to the area which benefits locals through increased sales tax, purchasing of goods from local vendors, visiting local businesses and then the domino effect that these dollars generate through the local economy. I just warn the board to guard against complacency in the design and structure of the compensation package.

  27. well, they have always said that tourism is BIG BUCKS for Asheville. I guess it is really big bucks for some folks. Not so much for the rest of us.

  28. It is time to retire the TDA. I’m sure there was a time it made sense to create such bodies, but we have plenty of tourists now. The tax money could be used by our elected officials to address more salient issues…and if they used the money to buy banners at the US Open, we could boot them out! Sunset the TDA!

  29. I would love to shadow her for one week to see the kind of work she does that justifies that kind of compensation .

  30. I agree with most that the package seems outlandish when people are living under bridges. As someone who grew up here, born in the late 70’s, I must point out that we called it “Trashville” in the 90’s. (Because it kind of was.) So that is not a new term. The early aughts were the heyday of the revitalization – yes, some tourism-driven but with local roots. The 20-teens saw the ugly side of tourism, cost of living skyrocket, local charm stripped, and locals priced out of the communities they themselves built. Now, here we are thinking we still need to pay someone a $500K/year package to promote tourism when frankly, the focus needs to be on cleaning up the mess left behind and making this city livable for its residents again.

    1. Good points. Also, tourism (whether people admit it or not) drove up housing costs, converted many long-term rentals into Airbnbs, propped up wealthy white farm system baseball team owners, continues to drive many essential workers away and has exacerbated the fiasco as Mission Hospital. One of the pro-TDA commenters above benefits financially from a business that manages second homes. All that said, I doubt there are many cops or teachers who would turn down the opportunity to ditch their under-appreciated work and trade places with Isley. Nor would I. But I’d also fight like hell to do more for citizens who continue to foot the bill for infrastructure. And I’d very publicly tell firefighters from Florida that they’re not above the law when they OD at the Grove Park Inn.

  31. Why does this article leave out the 401k/Retirement benefits of the others mentioned? I say that not to disparage the leaders of Buncombe County or deny that they deserve the benefit, but, it puts a different emphasis on Vic Isley than the rest of the leadership by leaving that out.

  32. It’s an honest shame that AVL Watchdog’s journalism has become characterized by smear tactics, exacerbating divisions within our community rather than promoting unifying and uplifting narratives.

    It’s time to stop using tactics from the Fox News playbook.

    1. I know the folks at AVL Watchdog and they are all honest, ethical and driven to provide a service to their community. They are one of many such organizations that have sprung up nationwide to fill the void that local newspapers no long can or are unwilling to fill. They don’t exist to guild the lily or as a cheering squad. They are experienced investigative reporters with the awards to prove it. They came into existence because your local rag would not delve into the very problems and issues that citizens have a right to know about. Yes, it is a shock that they don’t just parrot back what the local police and mayor’s offices send out in their crafted press releases. That is what investigative reporting is all about; to uncover the things that some people want covered up, to reveal what happens at meetings unethically closed to the public, to shine a light on what goes on behind closed doors. I guess it was a shock to some to see actual reporting on government being done once again in Asheville. Get used to it.

      1. This article was crafted in such a way to incite “outrage” and misdirect resident frustrations that really should be directed at City and County government. It’s been a thing here for years. The headline sensationalizes what the “potential” of the CEO’s compensation package. If it were apples to apples, pensions for City and County employees would have been factored into the reporting and retirement for the other NC organization heads. There would have been more due diligence in researching similarly sized/budget convention and visitor bureaus, not cherry picking NC orgs with less than 20% of what the TDA here is responsible for. This and other coverage of the TDA sure reads like they have an axe to grind. Have to agree with Terrance on this one.

  33. The governor of the state of North Carolina only makes $158,000. The TDA Board of Directors is out of control. Would love to see an itemization of expenses the TDA board incurred on the trip to New York for the US Open tennis tournament.

  34. Can’t believe she makes that much money…with the low wages that Asheville pays,but yet she makes 400 grand year. Totally unbelievable. Even Lou (Asheville airport) makes less,but he does get free 1st class travel,and yearly trips to Hawaii,Colorado and other places ,and I would think his job is more of a important role…Still just unbelievable.

    1. I wonder what the FIRST director of Airport made in 1961. That was Billy Wolcott. He was promoted to City Engineer around 1966 and was the dad of my BFF from school days Asheville resident and retired attorney Bill Wolcott.

  35. CEOs make a lot of money. The bigger issue that needs to be explored here is why employers in this community aren’t paying their staffs competitive salaries to meet the rising costs of living — compounded by inflation. If Asheville aspires to attract and keep a talented and creative workforce, this is of utmost importance.

  36. Based on current Asheville City PD starting salaries (which are a joke btw) – we can have 12+ cops or one person that ‘manages’ tourism.
    Which of these would have a bigger impact on both residents and tourists?
    [Spoiler alert: It’s NOT the overpaid ‘manager’]

    1. Agree that the City of Asheville should be investing in and supporting officers more. The City gets its revenues from local businesses and residents that pay property tax, sales tax, etc. That includes hundreds of businesses and thousands of residents that are supported by visitor spending in our town. It’s not legally possible for occupancy tax dollars paid by visitors to go towards police.

      1. Sadly, you are correct JennyP. But I do wonder how many calls of service go out to the APD and AFD that deal with issues at hotels/rentals involving tourists needing assistance. Since our tax $$ go to providing tourists with these services, i would make the argument that TDA funds can and should go towards helping support these services.

        1. Local hospitality businesses like hotels, rentals, retail, venues, etc. all pay tax on the value of their properties, they pay for water, etc. for their customers just like other businesses, so I don’t get the argument as to why they should pay more than another type of business for basic city and county services.

        2. Yes, remember the firefighters from Florida who OD’ed at Grove Park, drained resources and a big coverup from TDA and city council?

    1. Yes, you’re correct. We’ve fixed that and attached a note to the story acknowledging the error. Thanks for pointing that out to us.

  37. This is scandalous. The TDA should be abolished if it’s going to spend public money like that. All of the TDA receipts should be redirected to community needs. Let the hotel owners and others with a direct stake in tourism pay for the advertising.

  38. Tampa, Durham, Bermuda, DC…all cities with massive affordable housing issues and increased homelessness left in the wake of tourism ‘success’….

  39. There’s a certain irony here. Complaints are made that jobs in hospitality and tourism don’t pay well, and it is true that like many industries entry level jobs are at the lower end of the scale. But then when someone works their way up the ladder in that same industry and becomes a CEO the implication is made they are paid too much. I imagine if you looked back to the start of Ms Isley’s career you would find her working one of those low paid entry level jobs in hospitality.

    1. Yes, lots of ironies and perhaps some lessons for locals to comprehend. Bottom line: if you want a lot of tourists, pay for a lot of marketing to bring in the tourists. If you want a safer city, pay more to cops to keep the place safer. If you want a better water system, hire some engineers. And the next time your lawn care person, pet sitter, house cleaner or nanny raises their rates, don’t complain…

  40. She may be in the lower quartile for pay of tourism development CEOs in NYC, Orlando, LA, SFO, etc… But not in NC.

  41. Appreciate the Watchdog’s efforts to provide transparency. I’d like to know what funding sources pay Ms. Isley’s salary. If the TDA is a ‘public body’, what does that mean in terms of addressing concerns of the public?
    So, do we start to see the glaring and increasing wealth inequality exacerbated by a system that rewards the few ‘at the top’ and makes it increasingly difficult for those who do the work at the ground level to afford to live in the town they work in. TDA, NC legislature and our society need to re-think priorities and values.

  42. Whenever I contemplate moving to a new location I find most realtors post a “Salary Adjustment Calculator” to reflect my current salary and reveal how that translates to the cost of living in the new location. I was shocked to notice my six-figure job in NY City was actually worth less than my previous five-figure job in South Carolina. When I see “industry insiders” report the local salary is low compared to others nationwide, I believe they are self-serving and not intelligent enough to perform well here. We aren’t allowed to pay for infrastructure tourists wear out, but we can easily throw money away inflating staff salaries?

  43. A lot to unpack with the TDA and the way such organizations miss out on opportunities to unite communities and help pay for the infrastructure they burden (no matter what you hear about state mandates). One thing that should be noted: when the TDA began, there was no internet. In these here modern times, there are so many incredibly inexpensive ways to advertise through social media. I can assure you that I could get more bang for the buck on half the current TBD budget. And I’d use my own car. Another great story idea for Watchdog: What’s the carbon footprint of area tourism? What’s to come of all this groveling for visitors to drive and fly here to wreck our environment and destroy infrastructure while drinking overpriced/unaffordable beer from single-use plastic cups?

  44. Watchdog, please publish a list of the members of the Board of Directors controlling the TDA. What do they get out of their positions? Do groups they favor get more of the TDA-distributed grant money than others? Asheville has many serious concerns these days. Too much happened too fast and the some of the leaders in place haven’t been capable of handling it. There never is enough money where we need it, yet too much where we don’t need it!

  45. Hello,
    Why does she make that amount of money. 6% hotel tax, how about the tax going to roads, sidewalks. She needs to leave, tourism is down and if she is so good why is she not working with the town to get rid of the bad press, donate her bonuses if she is so concerned about our town.

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