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Wednesday September 17th 2014

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Smoke, Mirrors and PowerPoint presentation get $5.5 million from county

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Yesterday, the Escambia County Commission approved giving an new group, called Visit Pensacola, $5.5 million in bed tax dollars to run tourism for the county. The new group isn’t incorporated so the funds will be deposited with the Pensacola Sports Association.

There are no written documents on the new organization, its budget or its marketing plan. All the county commissioners saw was a PowerPoint presentation made at the Sept. 12 Committee of the Whole meeting, which county staff had to request from Ron Ellington, the local hotel association lobbyist.

The commissioners were sent a “revised” pdf of the presentation—meaning what the public saw at the meeting still wasn’t the plan.

I asked to commissioners if there were some documents that I was missing, but said no.

Commissioner Grover Robinson replied to my text for a copy of the written plan on governance,”We do not have it as he had changes. Plan to see detail when Allison brings to Monday meeting.”

There appears to be concerted effort to avoid Sunshine and public records by Ellington and his group. Ellington told that chamber board that he and the hotel owners have been working on this plan for months. Yet there are no written documents given to the county, other than a pdf of a PowerPoint presentation.

The PowerPoint is attractive, filled with standard tourism rhetoric—but it’s not worth $5.5 million. See: PowerPoint

Why is this important? We’re talking about handing control over $5.5 million based on a PowerPoint presentation. It’s classic Smoke & Mirrors.

One of the reasons for moving the funds out of the chamber was to make the new group operate more in the Sunshine and be more transparent. If the plan is done behind closed doors, how can we trust the new group?