By DOTTY NIST
South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Dawn Moliterno announced her resignation, effective in 90 days, at the Jan. 8 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting.
The meeting took place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex. At the meeting, Moliterno read a letter to the commissioners that included her notice of resignation, in which she expressed thanks for the honor of serving as TDC executive director.
Moliterno had served in the position for more than 2 1/2 years. Her previous position had been president and CEO of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce.
Soon after Moliterno’s predecessor Sonny Mares abruptly took advantage of an early retirement package offered to him by county human resources, the BCC had initially discussed partnering with the chamber to utilize Moliterno’s expertise in the leadership of the TDC. It had been estimated that it would take three to six months to get a new director in place through the search process that had been utilized in the past—and the BCC identified the need for strong leadership on an immediate basis due to the influx of tourists expected to accompany the opening of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in less than a month. Despite that, the tourism community had overwhelmingly called for the BCC to do a nationwide search for a new director.
In response to community concerns about the proposed chamber/TDC partnership, the BCC had proceeded in the direction of an interim management contract with Moliterno individually rather than with the chamber. However, in a 3-1 vote in April 2010, the commissioners had instead opted to authorize the negotiation of a one-year contract with Moliterno as executive director on a permanent basis, subject to an evaluation a year after her taking office—and Moliterno agreed to resign her chamber position to serve in the TDC director’s post.
Just weeks after Moliterno’s hiring, the county and TDC were faced with the challenge of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a difficult year for tourism. However, 2011 saw a rebound in the industry, and, at the Jan. 8 meeting, Moliterno reported 20 consecutive months of increase in the bed tax, a measure of the strength of the tourism industry. During her time as director, Moliterno was tapped as the county’s point person for the effort to four-lane U.S. 331. She also served on the board of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport and on several state and regional boards, including as Northwest Florida’s representative on the Visit Florida board.
Reporting that she had accomplished all she had set out to do in the TDC director position, Moliterno commented that the time had come to move on to “the next chapter in life.” She pledged to work toward a smooth transition over a 90-day period with the person selected as her replacement.
Her resignation letter follows:
“Mr. Chairman, Commissioners, and Mr. Clerk,
Nearly 3 years ago this April I was approached by the County to become the Executive Director of our South Walton TDC. At that time this Board specifically cited the need for my leadership in stabilizing slumping bed tax revenues; completing the work that was in progress with Southwest Airlines and the new International Airport; developing standard operating procedures and guidelines for the TDC, specifically regarding financial and statutory compliance; and, of course, to lead an eager team. Little did we know just days after my hiring, a devastating oil spill would occur that greatly impacted our county.
Today, I can honestly say that I, with the help of a great team, have accomplished all that you asked me to do at the TDC, and much more. One of my weaknesses is that I do not enjoy, and am not very good at, talking about myself or my successes. But today it is necessary. My team at the TDC has exceeded everyone’s expectations. We can all agree that the success of Southwest Airlines, and the addition of the new international airport, are critical to South Walton. I am honored and privileged to have been part of a team that worked on behalf of this region to see this critical issue through completion and the lasting impact it will have for years to come. Southwest is thriving, and not only didn’t they need the St. Joe guarantee, they have continued to add flights to areas needed, such as Houston, and the seasonal St. Louis route. Serving on the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Board I have seen first-hand how the airport will serve as a gateway for tourists, residents, and economic development and is on a road for continued success.
As significant as those accomplishments are, what has occurred at our TDC is even more special… 20 consecutive months of increase in bed tax revenue, South Walton Beaches continuously being named as the best beaches by various sources, we have successfully executed all of our BP marketing grants with all dollars properly spent and accounted for, we have created numerous standard operating procedures, and maintained compliance with state statutes and county ordinances, we have been audited as part of the County and by BP for our grants, and no financial violations were found, we created a detailed monthly report, we produce an annual report, an annual written strategic plan with written quarterly updates, all posted on our public partner site.
We are measured not only on bed tax collection but on many other metrics such as online interactive analytics, fulfillment with visitor interactions through sales, meetings, and visitor services, and brand execution across all mediums. I could go on for some time but I hope this gives a high level picture of the many accomplishments you set out for us to achieve and we exceeded them.
So one might ask why all the negative public comments that recently seem to follow the TDC?
In many cases we forget there is a constant movement of information and people in and out of the market. So although some projects/communication can be old news to us to someone else they are just hearing about it for the first time. This is truly an area we can improve on at the TDC. We must remember that we are always talking to someone for the first time even if we have communicated it many times over multiple mediums. But, unfortunately most of what you saw play out was political rhetoric, hidden agendas, and just plain old political divisiveness. I have watched the discussion about the TDC and transparency come up when in fact the TDC is more transparent today than in its history. There is nothing we haven’t shared or made public, many I mentioned earlier….”
Read the full story in the Jan. 17, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.