Tension builds over role of TDC

After months of turmoil between county officials and the Tourist Development Council (TDC), Commissioner Rob Williamson wants to revisit the ordinance that established the TDC, and some members are concerned he’s trying to redefine their roles.

Tension has been building since last year, when the county brought the tourism staff in-house and under the supervision of the county’s Economic Development Office (EDO).

Previously, the TDC provided sole supervision of and direction to staff, including Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Director Julie Morgan, who now reports to EDO Director Shannon Ogletree.

That transition has caused friction between county officials and some TDC members, who want more of a say in decision-making related to the county’s tourist development efforts.

The turmoil reached a fevered pitch at the May 20 TDC meeting when Williamson openly argued with TDC members over whether or not they should have input on staff travel decisions.

“As a taxpayer I believe we have a right to look into it,” TDC member Laurie Gallup said. “None of this gets reported back to us.”

TDC member Jack Sanborn pushed for staff travel to be pre-approved by the council, which he said has decades of experience in the travel industry.

Williamson, disagreed, stating Ogletree approves expenditures for the TDO’s $33,000 annual travel budget.

“(Morgan) doesn’t report to me,” Williamson said. “She doesn’t report to you. It’s not your call.”

During Morgan’s May 26 tourism update to county commissioners, Williamson questioned her about the various roles of committee members and the county’s tourism department.

“Has this board delivered clear policy,” Williamson asked.

Morgan indicated better clarity was needed.

“At this time I think we have some work to do on that,” she said.

Current Santa Rosa County ordinances state the TDC “shall prepare and submit to the Board of County Commissioners a plan for tourist development.”

The ordinance also states the TDC should provide a prioritized list of proposed uses for bed tax revenues.

Williamson said a review of the county’s ordinance that established the Santa Rosa TDC was underway. He told fellow board members possible related actions could be met with “some resistance.”

However, Williamson will be limited in the extent to which he can clarify or redefine the TDC’s involvement in county tourism development.

Florida State Statutes mandate local governments levying bed taxes have an appointed TDC to make recommendations to commissioners “on the effective operation of the special projects or uses of the tourist development tax revenue.”

Kyle Holley, a TDC member is worried on-going “control” issues may prompt commissioners to fix a tourism development structure he said isn’t broken.

“A healthy discourse is OK,” he said after the meeting. But Holley hopes the expertise of TDC members “will continue to be valued.”

Read the full story in the June 18 edition of Navarre Press. Subscribe online here.


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