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Saturday April 19th 2014

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TDC approves Visit Pensacola governance. Others are not as positive

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Last night, the Escambia County Tourism Development Council met to hear from Ron Ellington about Visit Pensacola, the new entity that has been proposed to take over the $5.5 million tourism marketing budget.

I’ve been told that, other than Denis McKinnon, Jr., few board members asked questions. Pensacola Larry B. Johnson, Jr. made it known that he was upset with this blog’s reporting on Visit Pensacola, but there was little opposition to the Visit Pensacola’s structure or bylaws.

However, the TDC wasn’t ready to vote to give Visit Pensacola the $5.5 million tourism development tax revenue without a budget. A meeting has been set for this Friday for the TDC to review that.

Some county commissioners have circulated the proposed transition plan that Ellington delivered to the Board of County Commissioners late Monday afternoon. The reception hasn’t been as accepting as the TDC.

One chamber board member emailed me his concern that the transition plan —which moves the $5.5 million budget from the Greater Pensacola Chamber to Visit Pensacola by Oct. 1—was never reviewed, discussed or approved by the chamber board.

He wrote: “None of this transition was approved or discussed by the chamber. (Ellington) makes it look like it was. That’s bs. I believe the public and all would like a smooth transition to a community board with the best we can find. Their plan will not cash flow. Without help or debt.”

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For the record, I support an independent board running tourism marketing. I have no personal issues with Ron Ellington or any of the hoteliers.

I do take issue with the structure of Visit Pensacola, which was decided without any public input. The mission of the organization and its bylaws have been narrowly written to serve the lodging industry. An effort has been made to control the appointees. And the African-American community was not allowed to participate in the discussions of the structure of Visit Pensacola and are being discriminated against in the bylaws.

Plus, there has been a concerted effort to avoid public discussion and review of Visit Pensacola by delaying the sending of any written documents to the county until the last possible minute.

I expect more openness with $5.5 million at stake.

I apologize if this position upsets Councilman Johnson, Mr. Ellington and those hell-bent on this rush for approval, but, like Commissioners Steven Barry, Lumon May and Gene Valentino, I have a fiduciary responsibility to be sure the public interest–and the interest of our readers– is served and the $5.5 million is properly managed.