Escambia County

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

September 13, 2013

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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?

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  • Ames September 13, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Every damn one of them need to be investigated…by someone not affiliated with any local entity with investigative authority.

  • CJ Lewis September 13, 2013 at 9:31 am

    One of the slides, the one designated “Florida Organizational Models,” has an annotation in the lower right hand corner, “Revised 1/11.” Does Ellington have the data for September 2013? Any reason to keep it secret? Are there any changes from January 2011?

    As of January 2011, it looks like two-thirds of the models used are “Public,” to include the three counties to the east: Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton. They all seem to be well-run counties doing well on the tourist issue. Perhaps the real question the Escambia County Commission should be asking is if it should follow the examples of our neighbor counties to the east.

    If the effort were “Public,” there would be a lot more transparency. No doubt, commissioners are being pressured to make a fast decision, even if it’s not a good one. A more prudent move would be to let the Chamber run the program for Fiscal Year 2014 – that starts in just two weeks – while assessing the pluses and minuses of the different models used in Florida. Once the anti-Chamber venom seeps out of everyone’s bloodstream, it might turn out that the current model that has worked for 25 years might still be the best model.

    Visitors only spend 53% of their money on lodging yet there seems to be an overemphasis on hotel/condo types in Ellington’s model. The restaurant and retail sectors probably deserve seats at the table. Off the top of my head, I’d pick job creation machine Joe Abston to represent the restaurant sector and someone from Duh! to represent the retail sector. The two persons from the governing bodies of Pensacola and Escambia County will not provide much value-added. Might make sense to reassign those seats to people who create jobs.

    Lastly, if the hotel/condo owners want to exercise most of the operational control to include shaping the budget submission and implementation details, what are they prepared to bring to the table? How much money are the hotel and condo owners willing to contribute to a public/private partnership?

  • Cal Robinson September 13, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Why are the county commissioners acting like mindless sheep these days.

    “We don’t actually have a business plan or a proposed budget, but we have a nice shiny PowerPoint.”
    — Okay, Ron. We’ll give your group $5.5M to run tourism for the county.

    “I’m not a budget guy, but we can run the jail cheaper than the sheriff. I can’t actually show you a budget of how it can be done, but I’ll do it.”
    — Okay, George. We won’t ask for hard facts or figures. Or even remember how we drove the jail into the ground the first time before the jail was turned over to the Sheriff’s department.

    Seriously, what are they putting in the water at the County Complex?????