By DOTTY NIST
County commissioners have agreed to interview nine candidates for the vacant South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) executive director position, have set a salary range for the position, and have provided for temporary oversight of the TDC.
The decisions took place at the April 9 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
The nine candidates are the result of the BCC-appointed TDC Review Committee’s work examining 45 applications submitted for the position. The committee had been tasked with picking the 10 top candidates, a task that was completed on April 1. Subsequently, the committee’s top choice, Kelly M. Miller of Tampa, withdrew to pursue another opportunity.
The remaining nine candidates are: Douglas C. Traub, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Robert L. Warren, DeFuniak Springs; Terry Cook, Harrison, Ark.; James “Jim” Bagby, Destin; Yan Baczkowski, Miami; Dennis A. Tracy, Jacksonville; Jessica L. Jarosz, Fort Walton Beach; Julie Morgan, Sweetwater, Tenn.; and Mary Chris Murry, Atlanta.
Walton County Human Resources Manager Nan MacGinnis and Sally Merrifield, TDC Review Committee member, announced the finalist candidates to the county commissioners at the April 9 meeting. District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld conveyed thanks to the committee members for their hard work.
MacGinnis asked the BCC for direction on how many candidates would be interviewed, whether the person hired would be under contract or have regular employee status, and what would be the salary range.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander commented on what an important position this is for Walton County. “I will take the time to listen to all of them,” she said.
The TDC director position is one of only three county staff positions for which the BCC hires the person directly by a vote, the others being county administrator and county attorney.
District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows was of the opinion that the TDC director should not be under contract but should have regular employee status.
MacGinnis stated that this would result in the TDC director being subject to all the same regulations as other county employees. Meadows responded that the TDC director should be treated the same as other county department directors.
Imfeld agreed and said he looked forward to interviewing the candidates.
Comander said that previously she had been against contracts for the three positions in which the people work directly by the BCC. However, she said, after a discussion with McGinnis she had changed her mind and understood the value of having the three people under contract. “We expect more from them,” she said.
“It’s all very subjective,” Meadows responded. She warned that politics come in when the positions are treated differently. “I just want them to do their job,” she said.
Imfeld commented that he understands that the public is asking for an approach to tourism that balances attracting tourists with accommodating the needs of residents.
Meadows made a motion that the person hired would have employee status rather than being under contract. The motion carried 3-2, with District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman and Comander voting no.
Meadows noted that the BCC has the option of having the TDC director work under the direction of the county administrator rather than directly for the BCC. However, there was no motion to make that change at this time.
In discussion of the salary range for the position, Comander said, “I don’t like giving away the farm to begin with. I think it’s just not prudent.”
The salary range advertised for the position had been $78,599 to $134,794, and $130,000 had been the annual salary for TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno, whose last day on the job was April 9.
On a motion by Meadows, the commissioners voted to revise the salary range to between $78,599 and $130,000.
MacGinnis agreed to set up the interviews as soon as possible. She said that the end of the week would probably be the earliest possible.
Later in the meeting, Gerry Demers of Walton County Administration asked the commissioners for their direction regarding the operation of the TDC during the time prior to a new director coming on board.
Comander commented that the TDC staff know their jobs well and that possibly all that would be needed was some temporary administrative oversight. She suggested that Stan Sunday, Walton County corrections director, take on this duty on a part-time basis, reasoning that Sunday has his staff well trained and ready to take over for him when needed.
Chapman agreed, saying that Sunday’s role should be oversight and ensuring that rules are followed
Comander said she expected that the county would have hired a new TDC director within a month or six weeks’ time. She moved for approval of utilizing Sunday as had been discussed.
Meadows expressed concern that Sunday was based north of the bay and might not be able to spare the time. She suggested instead enlisting the help of the Institute for Senior Professionals of Northwest Florida State College.
Comander called for a vote on her motion. District 2 Commissioner Kenneth Pridgen clarified that the TDC would remain under the authority of county administration with Sunday assisting. The motion was approved.