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Friday December 19th 2014

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Mayor’s marketing firm cited in Auditor General’s audit of Okaloosa TDC

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The Florida Auditor General’s Office has released its audit report of the Okaloosa County Commission’s oversight of the Tourist Development Council and the TDC’s use of bed taxes and BP funds.

The report points out the lack of oversight by the county commission and TDC board over its executive director and advertising firms. The Auditor General offers specific recommendations for the county.

For Pensacola residents, the findings may resurface discussions about the wisdom of Mayor Ashton Hayward’s choice of The Zimmerman Agency as his marketing firm.

While the Auditor General’s report doesn’t specifically cite The Zimmerman Agency, the county’s own internal audit report, which was done after former TDC executive director Mark Bellinger committed suicide when allegations of misuse of funds surfaced in May 2012, identified Zimmerman and Mobile-based Lewis Communications as the TDC’s two advertising firms.

Last spring, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced The Zimmerman Agency, which is based in Tallahassee, as his hand-picked marketing firm that would takeover all the city’s marketing, including the Energy Services of Pensacola (later renamed by Hayward and Zimmerman “Pensacola Energy”), Port of Pensacola (still called by that name) and Pensacola International Airport (whose name Hayward had changed without Zimmerman’s help).

Local ad agencies protested the selection, as did several Pensacola City Council members.

When the Bellinger’s misuse of TDC funds surfaced, it was discovered that Zimmerman had been a pass-through for several improperly authorized purchases, including a $710,000 yacht, $181,000 in motorcycles and $45,359. Zimmerman was also funding two TDC employees through its agency.

Lewis Communications was a pass-through on transactions that bought a house for Bellinger and his wife.

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