By DOTTY NIST
Walton County commissioners turned down a request from the county’s tourism council to increase the frequency of their meetings.
The decision took place at the Jan. 10 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the county courthouse.
Until November 2010, the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC), established in 1986, had held monthly meetings. The meetings were changed to a quarterly schedule soon after the BCC initiated a reorganization of the council under the tenure of TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno. Moliterno was appointed to fill the vacant executive director’s position in the spring of 2010.
While the tourism council executive director and staff often come to mind when the TDC is mentioned, it is the actual tourist development council that must be in place according to state law in order for any Florida county to collect the tourist development tax or “bed tax” which funds promotion of the area, beach cleaning, construction of public dune walkovers, and other tourism-related activities.
Florida Statute 125.0104 details, “The governing board of each county which levies and imposes a tourist development tax under this section shall appoint an advisory council to be known as the ‘ (name of county) Tourist Development Council.’”
The ordinance dictates that the council’s nine members be appointed by the governing board, in the case of Walton County the county commission. At least six of those members are required to be involved in the tourism industry, and at least two must be elected municipal officials.
The statute provides for members of the tourism council to make recommendations to the county’s governing board on use of the tourist development tax and on other matters. They are charged with reviewing expenditures from the tourist development tax fund and reporting any unauthorized expenditures to the BCC and to the state Department of Revenue. The statute requires the tourism council to hold meetings at least quarterly.
At its December 2011 meeting, the TDC had voted in favor of increasing the frequency of their meetings to six a year. On Jan. 10, as executive director, Moliterno brought that recommendation before the BCC.
“I would ask for your approval/guidance as to their recommendation to go from four to six meetings (a year),” Moliterno said in presenting the item. She also furnished the commissioners with guidelines currently in place that had been established for the advisory board in November 2010, providing for meetings to be held quarterly “or as requested by the TDC Director or the Board of County Commissioners.”
Moliterno noted that additional meetings other than the regular quarterly ones would be required, including an all-day strategic planning meeting in April. In April or May, she continued, the board members would need to meet to approve recommendations from that meeting and the budget that would be derived from the strategic plan.
County Commission Chairman Scott Brannon, who is also current chairman for the tourism council, was the first to address the request relayed by Moliterno.
While confirming that the December request was approved unanimously, Brannon commented that the reasons for the vote were unclear to him.
“I don’t think it’s necessary in my opinion as your representative there to defer from your previous guidelines,” Brannon told the other commissioners.
“Each and every member of the TDC council is provided with thorough documentations—all the information that they need,” Brannon continued, “and can come in at any time to ask questions about that. I think that any time any of them would like to request a special meeting, I would certainly entertain the need for that and, as your representative to the TDC, determine whether that was in the advisory interest of this board.”
Brannon stated that his recommendation would be “that we remain doing it the same way we’ve been doing it, it’s been very successful…”
“There was a charge from this board,” Brannon added, “to have a more accountable role over the TDC advisory council; the definition of what the role over that council is has been an evolving thing. I think they do a great job.”
“They have the information and the public has the information available, and those lines are open. I just don’t think it’s necessary to meet once every other month,” Brannon concluded.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander responded, “Over a year ago…things were wrong at the TDC… it is the taxpayer’s money and we are ultimately responsible. We asked, you know, that things be cleaned up and done, and that has been done. The staff of the TDC has come a long way.”
“And we asked,” Comander continued, “…that a new board be appointed and that it be an advisory board. It’s less than a year old. I would like to see us continue as we are, quarterly. With any board, if you need an emergency meeting, you call it.”
“If there is a problem, then certainly we can address it,” she said, “but I haven’t heard that there’s any problem….”
Read the full story in the Jan. 19, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.