Ronnie Burt, president and CEO of Visit KC, is battling to keep his job in the wake of lawsuit filed by the bureau’s former manager of human resources, as well as a call by the chairman of Visit KC’s board of directors that he resign.
The matter of Burt and his alleged harassment had apparently been simmering for most of 2017 before it became public in mid-December midst a series of allegations and counter claims that have observers wondering whether Burt can regain his standing and continue to lead Visit CEO in the future. Burt was named president and CEO of the organization in June 2014; he came to the job from Destination DC, where he had served as vice president of sales and services.
With public statements and news coverage cloaked in the type of language that one uses in situations involving human resource issues, it is difficult to get a clear picture of what is actually at issue in the situation, but the timeline seems to suggest that the matter was triggered when Burt fired Janette Barron, the former Visit KC human resources manager, who had worked for Visit KC for more than 20 years was fired, in March 2017.
Barron filed a lawsuit on Aug. 25, 2017, alleging that she had received complaints from multiple employees about “Burt’s harassment, bullying and retaliation of female employees.”
Earlier, on Oct. 25, 2016, according to the lawsuit, Barron, on the advice of Visit KC’s lawyers, had visited Kevin Pistilli, chairman of Visit KC’s board of directors and owner of the Raphael Hotel Group, and told him about Burt and requested an investigation into multiple complaints about harassment.
Barron’s lawsuit says that Barron told Pistilli that, in one instance, Burt had told a female employee at Visit KC that he “took a big risk hiring her knowing she was a single mom.”
Burt and Visit KC have not formally responded to Barron’s accusations, having twice requested extensions from Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Campbell. Both sides were scheduled for a Dec. 7 mediation session, according to court filings.
Then, following the Dec. 12 meeting of the board of directors, Burt wrote in a letter to the board that his authority as chief executive had been curtailed earlier in the year and that on Nov. 1, the chairman of the organization, Kevin Pistilli, had asked him to resign.
In the letter, cited by the The (Kansas City) Star, Burt referred to the Barron lawsuit and alleged that three unnamed employees of the organization have been “working in concert to discredit me both professionally and personally.”
“I am not sure that you are aware of this and it is my belief that you may have been intentionally kept unaware about it,” Burt wrote of Pistilli’s resignation request.
But In response, Pistilli said in an e-mail sent to the board of directors and revealed by The Star, “While some of the statements in Ronnie’s letter are accurate, other are inaccurate either in whole or in part, and fail to provide relevant facts, context and the full picture.”
There was a Dec. 22 closed door meeting of Visit KC’s executive committee to discuss the matter of Burt, but none of the participants would comment on what took place at the session.
For the record, according to The Star, Burt made a $250,000 base salary in 2015, the most recent year in which the organization filed its tax return. His total compensation for that year was $383,775 when accounting for bonuses, incentives, benefits and deferred compensation.