By DOTTY NIST
The Walton County Tourist Development Council’s (TDC) Oct. 1 bimonthly meeting was the first to be led by newly-appointed TDC chair Tim Norris, and other organization officers were selected at that meeting.
The meeting, which took place at the South Walton Annex, was well attended.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) had voted on Sept. 24 to appoint Norris as TDC chair.
Michele Ray, TDC finance/administration manager, began the Oct. 1 meeting with a financial report revealing bed tax collections for August 2013 as being 27.31 percent higher than those for the same month in 2012. Ray also told the council members that the TDC’s internal audit was wrapping up and would soon be presented to the BCC and the public.
TDC Executive Director Jim Bagby said he had sent all council members an email requesting a response on the office or committee post they would prefer. Offices to be filled were vice chair, secretary and treasurer, and it was envisioned that one council member would serve on each of four committees being set up to assist the TDC. Bagby said he had prepared a draft of assignments in which he had attempted to place each council member in their first or at least their second preferred assignment.
At Bagby’s request, in August the TDC had unanimously approved the formation of the four advisory committees.
With each to be composed of eight community members and one TDC council member, the committees had been envisioned to operate in a similar manner as those put in place under the tenure of KrissTitus, who served as TDC director from 1999 until 2008. The committees had continued through the 2008-2010 directorship of Sonny Mares and were eliminated soon after Dawn Moliterno was appointed as TDC director in the spring of 2010.
In response to Bagby’s remarks on the assignments draft, council member Amy Wise-Coble stated that she had been very concerned with the situation with the new chair and that the situation “continues to make me a little uneasy.” Wise-Coble added that she did not favor moving forward with the committees “at this time.”
She explained that she feared that the committees would create “a very different feel,” and “decentralize” the TDC.
TDC member Scott Russell also said that he had concerns about the “committee aspect.”
Bagby explained that the committees would not function as subcommittees of the TDC. “They are here to help us engage the community,” he said. Bagby explained that recommendations from the committees would be provided to staff, who would then present those recommendations to the TDC.
Bagby, who had served on the TDC Beach Nourishment Committee as a citizen, expressed the opinion that one of the most important functions of the TDC committees was as a channel for dissemination of information to the community.
Russell expressed interest in knowing who had applied to serve on the committees, the manner of selection of committee members, and how the mission statements that had been provided for the committees had come about.
TDC member Richard Veldman asked about the role of the TDC in the selection of officers for the organization.
Bagby responded that, by state law and per guidelines that had been approved by the TDC on Feb. 26, 2013, the TDC chair may be appointed by the BCC. The other officers are elected by the council, Bagby noted.
The last two TDC chairs, Cindy Meadows and Scott Brannon, were county commissioners and were appointed by the BCC. Meadows, Walton County District 5 commissioner, had been appointed to chair the tourism council approximately one year ago.
“It’s just time to move forward from all the fighting back and forth,” Bagby told the council members.
Veldman responded that he was certainly not questioning the appointment of Norris as chair but added that, considering the council members’ substantial experience in the tourism industry, a change in the guidelines might be needed to allow the TDC to recommend a chair.
TDC member Gus Andrews said he had heard that the BCC had been (incorrectly) told that the TDC had voted unanimously to recommend Norris. Bagby responded that this had not been stated to the BCC.
Wise-Coble complained that a new chair had been appointed without the appointment being on the BCC agenda and without any of the council members being aware of the appointment until after the fact.
Russell agreed, saying that he would have attended the BCC meeting if the selection of a TDC chair had been on the agenda. He said his impression upon hearing about the appointment was “that it was a slide-under-the-mat discussion.” “It was concerning to me,” Russell told Bagby.
Bagby responded that he had not expected the BCC to act on an appointment at the Sept. 24 meeting, that he had only asked the commissioners for direction regarding the chair position in view of the new fiscal year approaching.
Meadows’ term as chair had expired. At the BCC meeting, she stated her intent to continue to serve on the TDC but said she did not choose to continue as chair. She then moved for the appointment of Norris as chair, and her motion was approved by unanimous vote of the county commissioners.
Norris observed that obviously some of the other council members had seniority. He continued by asking if the members were in agreement with the other assignments as outlined on the draft that Bagby had provided.
Wise-Coble responded that she was not in agreement with Meadows as vice chair. This was the post that Meadows had requested.
Norris asked if there was a motion to select Meadows as vice chair. There was no response.
On a motion by Wise-Coble, Veldman was selected as vice-chair.
Wise-Coble moved to select Meadows as treasurer, and her motion was approved.
Andrews moved to select Wise-Coble as secretary, and that motion carried.
As discussion returned to the committees, Bagby explained that they had been modeled after the ones that had formerly been in operation. As with the previous committees, staff had recommended committee members based on membership criteria and geographical location, he said.
Russell said he would be fine going ahead and approving the committees and their missions but not at present their membership.
There had been 86 applications for the 36 committee seats.
“First of all, I’d like to know all 86, as I’d like to thank them,” Russell said.
Bagby was not in favor of putting off appointing members to the committees until the TDC’s next meeting. Waiting two months to have the committees running and engaging the community would be too long, he argued.
After discussion, approved was a motion to set up the committees and their missions as proposed, have the chair and Russell examine the committee memberships at the close of the meeting, and bring a recommendation on memberships forward just before the TDC’s Oct. 15 annual meeting for a vote.
In other action at the Oct. 1 meeting, TDC members voted to reactivate the TDC student internship program and a Ride-Along Program whereby contractors, consultants and committee volunteers for the TDC may ride in authorized TDC vehicles with TDC staff as observers with written approval of the executive director.
The council members voted in favor of changes to the Walton County Beach Activities Ordinance regarding hours in which beach chairs, umbrellas, tents and similar items are prohibited from being left on the beach. The recommended language specifies that the items cannot be left on the beach between one hour after dusk and 7 a.m. between Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend and, during the remainder of the sea turtle nesting season, between one hour after dusk and 8 a.m. It states that, for the remainder of the year, the items cannot be left on the beach between one hour after dusk and 7 a.m. The proposed changes would also require beach vendors to sign up for the South Walton Turtle Watch text alert program in all sections of the beach for which they seek a permit to provide goods and services. In addition, the language provides specifics for hours for driving of vendor vehicles on the beach during sea turtle nesting season, limiting driving to one hour and 30 minutes. Finally, the language sets up a “three-strike system,” with any beach vendor incurring three ordinance violations in the same year having their vending permit suspended for the rest of the permit year.
The recommended changes to the ordinance will require public hearings and a favorable vote by the BCC in order to take effect.
The council members voted in favor of an initiative to market “South Walton” to potential tourists in emerging markets. The campaign is to be paid for from funds previously provided by the TDC to Southwest Airlines through a half-cent bed tax. Southwest has now discontinued that program and declined the use of those funds in the new fiscal year.
A request for proposals (RFP) for research services for the TDC was endorsed by the council members, and there was a vote to renew the TDC’s agreement with the Cultural Arts Alliance for management of the Bayou Arts Center.
Since the TDC is an advisory board, action items receiving a favorable vote from the body are subject to final consideration by the county commission.
At the close of the meeting, Norris and Russell met with Bagby and other TDC staff members to review applications submitted for seats on the TDC committees and names of recommended appointees to the committees. Russell suggested one membership change for the Events, Activities, Arts and Culture Committee due to two proposed members, Steve Barber and Lauren Gall, being employed for the same company. As a result, Gall was removed from the list of recommended committee members and replaced by another applicant, Jennifer Steele.
In addition to Barber and Gall, recommended appointees to that committee include Erin Stranko, Susan Lucas, Claire Bannerman, Elisa Sharpe, Paige Schnell, and Sammy Sanchez.
Other committees and recommended appointees from the community are as follows: Marketing Advisory Committee – Marilyn MacCollum, Tracey Louthain, Dan Keyser, Richard Ross, Dan McNellis, Brook Stetler, Stacy Brady, and Martin Liptrot; Beach Management Committee – Sharon Maxwell, Leonard Martin, Matthew Aller, Gary Wise, John Henderson, Fred Buehler, Jack Slattery, and Laurel Abbe; Destination Improvement Committee – Branch McClendon, Blaine Dargavell, Jacquee Markel, Marilu Maris, Jason Cutshaw, Leigh Moore, Andy McAlexander, and Fred Betz.
Each committee is also to include one TDC member to serve as liaison.
Plans are for committee memberships to be finalized at a 4 p.m. special meeting to precede the TDC’s Oct. 15 annual meeting. The location for the special meeting will be the Sandestin Hilton Theatre Room.