By DOTTY NIST
Citizens will have the opportunity to participate in general discussion and provide input on the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC). Approved at the request of the TDC, has been the hiring of a facilitator to conduct public workshops that are to include a number of topics related to the tourism council.
At their June 26 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs, county commissioners authorized the council to advertise for bids for the facilitator.
These workshops are to precede the facilitator-led workshops that the TDC had decided on previously, which are to include “visioning sessions” to work through what is needed with regard to space for TDC administrative offices—and to evaluate options for the TDC visitor center, including a center attached to the offices, separate, or in multiple locations.
While the initial workshops are to include discussion of needs for an interactive visitor center and TDC administrative offices, they are planned to be broader in scope to provide for more general public input on the TDC—and for informational content on the mission of the TDC and the statutes governing the organization.
At the June 26 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting, TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno told the commissioners that the TDC understood the public’s desire for a “bigger broader discussion” on the TDC, and that the council members had indicated that they would welcome that. She added that the council members saw these workshops as a good opportunity for information to be provided to the public on the state statutes under which the TDC operates and on the constraints posed by those laws.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander asked if the workshops could not be conducted by someone in county administration or by another county staff member so that funds would not have to be expended for a facilitator.
Molitero responded that the council members had thought that, in order to take public input, address community concerns, and provide the general information that the council wanted to share, it would be important for the workshops to be conducted by a facilitator not tied to the county. She added that funding was available in the TDC budget that would not result in a reduction of any funds set aside for capital improvement projects. Plans are for the workshops to be held at a location other than the TDC building and for the facilitator secured for the initial workshops to continue as leader of the workshops to follow on the administrative offices and options for the visitor center.
District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones was in agreement on the need for a professionally-trained facilitator to conduct the workshops. Speaking of the joint BCC/TDC meeting held two weeks earlier to discuss the issue of a new location for the TDC offices and options for the visitor center, Jones recalled that citizens in attendance had put forth “50 or 60 different ideas.”
Jones also spoke to the need for having a trained facilitator on county staff.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones moved to approve the TDC’s request to advertise for bids for a facilitator to lead the workshops. His motion was approved 4-1, with Comander voting no.
In other action on TDC items at the June 26 meeting, the commissioners authorized the TDC to advertise for bids for an engineering/construction company to correct health and safety-related deficiencies identified with the current TDC building and site. Moliterno said that immediate measures were also being taken on these issues and that consideration was being given to utilize the TDC conference room for staff people who would be moved there from the attic.
At the request of the TDC, the commissioners approved a contract with DPA for research services on future tourism trending at a rate of $157,000 per year. Moliterno said that the TDC had advertised a request for proposals for the services, for which $160,000 had been budgeted, and that DPA’s bid had come in below that amount. She explained that the council members thought it important to focus research on future rather than past tourism trends. She added that the council had conducted research for the past 10 years in order to guide them in the effective use of media.
“New improved” guidelines and operating procedures recommended by the TDC for the Group Business Sponsorship Incentive Program were approved, as were criteria for designation of beach neighborhoods for purposes of marketing those neighborhoods as part of the “Visit South Walton” destination brand.
Moliterno also received authorization to hire at an hourly rate seven individuals who had been working with TDC advertising consulting firm LKM. She had previously explained that the owner of LKM was closing down his business at the end of June after 27 years of operation, due to the illness of his wife. The hiring of the seven individuals was aimed at facilitating immediate TDC needs for a 60 to 90-day period, pending the approval of an advertising contract with a new company. Moliterno said that cost savings would be seen over the 60 to 90-day period due to the hourly rates for the seven people being less than the amount the TDC had been paying LKM under the contract with that company.