By DOTTY NIST
The filling of four seats on the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) was delayed on Nov. 27, and the organization’s executive director and attorney found themselves in the position of fielding pointed questions about their procedures from an unhappy commissioner.
The decision and discussion took place at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting on that date at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
A request was on the agenda for the commissioners to rank applications for four expired seats on the advisory council and then make their selection on appointees.
Clay Adkinson, attorney for the TDC, explained that the four-year seats on the council are staggered as required by Florida Statutes, and that seats 3, 4, 7 and 9 are now open. He told the commissioners that six seats on the council are required to be filled by tourism-related professionals and not less than three seats nor more than four by owner/operators of businesses that collect the bed tax. Of the open seats, requirements for seat 9 only do not specify whether the council member must be an owner/operator collecting bed tax or a tourism-related professional.
Eleven applications were presented, among those from several current council members seeking reappointment.
Adkinson said that, in the past, the BCC has made the appointments in a two-step process, with appointments to the seats other than seat 9 being made and then the selection for seat 9 being made from applicants not chosen for the other seats.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was first to speak, making the objection that she just had received her copy of the applications the day prior to the meeting around noon and had not had time to “really study these applications.”
She also brought up the matter of what she referred to as an application that she had also received the previous day separately and “after the fact,” that had referenced the issue of a council member being “in good standing,”—and had included a note to Adkinson asking “should we define this” with regard to whether a bed tax collector was current on payments or whether the person had a lawsuit against the county.
Meadows questioned whether an applicant had been “weeded out” due to having a lawsuit against the county or “harrassing the TDC.”
Meadows continued that this was what she understood had happened in the TDC’s selection process for the Van Ness Butler, Jr. Award. The award is presented by the TDC on an annual basis to an individual who has made significant tourism-related contributions to the community. Meadows said she had been told that Moliterno had asked Adkinson if a person could be eliminated from consideration because they “had a problem with the TDC,”—and that this had happened to local businessman Mike Ragsdale, who had been “a little bit testy with the TDC” and was, as a result, “tossed out of the nomination.”
“Is this the standard operating procedure of the TDC?” Meadows demanded.
Addressing the applications for the TDC seats, Moliterno stated that TDC staff had submitted all the applications received for the advisory council seats to county administration on Nov. 20, the day that the application process closed, and that the TDC had received no additional applications after that date.
The other document to which Meadows had referred, Moliterno maintained, was a draft that had been put up on the TDC’s partner web site and that was part of the process of the TDC’s consideration of standard operating procedures. A final version of these procedures had been later approved by the TDC and then by the BCC.
Moliterno explained that the draft document had included proposed council guidelines and the note with the question from her to Adkinson that Meadows had referenced.
Meadows then asked what was the TDC policy with regard to appointment to the council of people not in good standing or with lawsuits against the county.
Taking that question, Adkinson responded, “That is left to the board of county commissioners who appoints those individuals.” He qualified that the tourism council does have a code of conduct applying to council members. The code had been recommended by the previous council and approved by the BCC, he explained. The code of conduct guidelines, he continued, had included that members delinquent on bed tax remittances should not serve on the council. Adkinson said that, although no specific policy says that a person suing the county cannot serve on the TDC, the “state code of ethics addresses” the matter and indicates that a conflict of interest would exist in such a circumstance. The code of conduct does state that a person serving on the TDC should not act to the detriment of the county, he commented.
Adkinson denied that he had at any time recommended “removing someone from any process….”
Read the full story in the Dec. 6, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.