Opinion

Ronnie Burt wants to clear his name after Visit KC pays to settle discrimination claims

What if the harassment allegations against Ronnie Burt aren’t true?
What if the harassment allegations against Ronnie Burt aren’t true?

I don’t know if Ronnie Burt is guilty of the harassment and the bullying behavior he’s been accused of. But what if the allegations aren’t true, as the outgoing CEO of Visit KC contends?

False accusations can end promising careers.

Is this the road we are headed down, where a slight, or a dust-up with a tough-minded supervisor, could cost someone their job or inflict irreparable harm on their reputation?

In his first public comments about the accusations, Burt denied wrongdoing.

“I was deeply hurt” by the allegations, he said.

Burt, 49, has spent almost 30 years in the hospitality and convention and tourism industries.

The progress Visit KC has made since he was tapped to lead the city’s convention and tourism bureau nearly four years ago is indisputable.

Since Burt’s arrival from Washington, D.C., the agency formerly known as the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association has undergone a name change; moved into plush new digs downtown; unveiled the reincarnation of the Kansas City Film Commission; formed the Kansas City Hospitality Alliance, a coalition of six local tourism organizations; and announced the approval of a downtown convention hotel, among other notable achievements.

Burt’s work here has been lauded in trade publications locally, regionally and nationally.

But that’s not the gist of this story. Burt’s last day at Visit KC is Jan. 31. He resigned days after a damning lawsuit alleging violations of the Missouri Human Rights Act for retaliation and wrongful termination was settled.

The lawsuit, brought forth by former Visit KC human resources manager Janette Barron, was dismissed Jan. 7 after attorneys for both sides reached a $250,000 settlement agreement. As in most cases like this, neither Visit KC nor Burt admitted wrongdoing.

Derek Klaus, a spokesman for Visit KC, confirmed the case was settled, but declined further comment due to personnel and privacy issues.

Walter Brown, Burt’s attorney, declined to comment on the suit or its resolution. Messages left for Lauren Perkins Allen, Barron’s attorney, were not returned.

Reached by phone, Barron declined to comment as well. She sued Burt and Visit KC in 2017, saying she was fired after she looked into claims of Burt’s alleged harassing and bullying behavior toward three female employees.

Of course, without firsthand knowledge of the office environment at Visit KC, totally dismissing the complaints would be unfair. Employees at Visit KC were not made available to talk about their experiences working under Burt, so their side of this story hasn’t been heard publicly.

But in a meeting with The Star, Burt denied the harassment allegations and Barron’s claims.

“This is my character,” he said. “This is my integrity, who I am as a person. Nobody wants to be named in a lawsuit.”

But the question remains: Did Burt harass or bully anyone at Visit KC? He took the high road in his response.

“These (allegations) are things that cause you pause and make you think,” he said.

And what did Burt, a married father of two, conclude as he reflected on the last few weeks? What did he learn?

“Communication creates clarity,” he said. “I think that is something that as I move forward just making sure other people understand what the expectations are.”

Burt seemed sincere in his response.

Overseeing an agency with 45 employees and a yearly operating budget around $13 million isn’t easy. Someone is bound to be unhappy.

But when multiple people make serious allegations and a lawsuit follows, it has a way of humbling you.

A contrite Ronnie Burt still could rebound and learn from his time in Kansas City. This is his chance.

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