By DOTTY NIST
Walton County’s tourism council’s first meeting with new Executive Director Jim Bagby at the helm took place on Aug. 13 at the South Walton Annex. Despite this being his first meeting, Bagby appeared inclined to let others, including tourist development council (TDC) staff and council members, take center stage. However, later in the meeting he did have some interesting new ideas to share as director.
The meeting, which took place at the South Walton Annex, began with a report from Michele Ray, TDC finance and administration manager, on bed tax collections. Collections for June 2013 were reported as exceeding the same month of the previous year by 11 percent, and Ray reported 9 percent more in bed taxes year to date as compared with 2012.
She reported June 2013 as being the biggest month for the TDC in its history.
Ron Ervin, TDC director of marketing and communications, addressed council members on the challenge of “a family of signs that don’t really get along well as a family” at beach accesses. There has been an ongoing effort to arrive at signage to streamline and consolidate the messages now displayed by the numerous signs that now occupy the public beach accesses. Public workshops on the topic have provided for input from the public. Ervin displayed one version of a sign incorporating a number of messages and asked for council members to continue to engage in dialogue on the issue.
Also displayed were photos putting forth the concept of signage placed directly on the planks of dune walkovers at the accesses. The idea was to repeat the “most vital” of the messages from signage occupying the entrance to the walkovers, in order to catch the eye of beachgoers. Cost for each boardwalk sign is approximately $15.
The council members voted in favor of proceeding with testing of the new concept at a number of beach accesses.
In other action, the council members voted in favor of keeping Zehnder Communications on the job for an additional year as TDC advertising agency. They also voted to seek bids for a company to provide research services to the council.
The council members voted in favor of hiring Spring O’Brien as TDC public relations firm for the new fiscal year. Of seven firms responding to the TDC’s request for proposals (RFPs) the company had been rated highest by a five-member evaluation team composed of Bagby, TDC and county staff members, and TDC members.
Bagby said his intention was to set up a subcommittee of the tourism council to conduct such evaluations in the future. He was concerned that in the past there had been a perception that TDC staff was in control in such situations.
In response to a presentation by Brad Pickel, beach management consultant, the council members voted in favor of entering a contract with American Government Services for the task of identifying ownership and encumbrances of gulf-front parcels in the area of the Walton County, Florida, Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project. Later Pickel also provided an update on the project, which is expected to be ready for construction by the end of 2014.
Bagby requested a modification to the scope of services for the beach safety/lifeguard services contract with the South Walton Fire District (SWFD). He explained that currently the requirement for a decision to close the water to the public is for at least two of the following three to be in agreement: the SWFD, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, and the TDC executive director. Bagby proposed to transfer his proxy to Gary Wise of the SWFD, who heads up the beach safety program. “He is more qualified,” Bagby explained. “I do not feel the need to be involved, because a life and death decision needs to be made by people who are down on the water’s edge,” he added.
The council members voted in support of that change and in favor of renewing the option to extend the SWFD contract for beach safety services for an additional year. TDC member Maurice Gilbert abstained from voting due to his position as a SWFD fire commissioner.
Subject to Bagby receiving the final plans, a change order for an amount not to exceed $48,742 was approved in connection with the improvements being provided for the TDC building by Lord & Sons and DAG. The change order was for the expansion of the bathroom.
Zehnder representatives provided an update on advertising, including information on “the perfect escape booth” that has been launched in a number of areas to provide people with the experience of being on the beach in south Walton County. The booth was described as extremely popular.
Pam Watkins, TDC director of sales, reported that this will be the 11th year that the Van Ness Butler Jr., Award is to be presented by the TDC to a local individual. The award is in recognition of excellence in hospitality service, travel/tourism marketing, advertising, promotion, and contributions to the local community. Watkins noted that nominations for the award will be closed on Aug. 30 and that council members will score the submissions. The winner is to be announced at the TDC’s annual meeting in the fall.
Bagby provided the council members with a list of working issues on his plate as director, with improvement of community and visitor engagement with the TDC as a focus. Among the issues were a management audit, financial audit, building renovation, individual meetings with staff and council members, the code enforcement process, job description review, inspection of facilities, training plan, travel schedule, strategic plan, the beach safety program, the beach nourishment plan, sales pitch development, web site changes, a relook at the TDC logo, a review of the proposed sports complex, the new fiscal year budget, a beach access parking plan, and further development of the family of signs, and a look at revisions to the Beach Activities Ordinance. Bagby identified community engagement with the TDC as his number one priority at this time….
Read the full story in the Aug. 22, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.