Business Escambia County

Visit Pensacola in the Sunshine

November 19, 2013

This morning Escambia County citizens will get to hear, for the first time in a public forum, about the latest set of bylaws for Visit Pensacola, Inc. — the new 501(c)6 organization that wants to control $5-6 million in tax dollars generated by the hotel industry.

The discussion will be held in County Commission chambers at 9 a.m. as part of the Board of County Commissioners’ Committee of the Whole.

We have heard that Visit Pensacola has been recruiting board members and has cut its list down to between 50-30 people. All of this has been done outside of the public view and no one knows who is deciding who will be the final board members or what is the criteria this mystery group is using in making its choices.

Here is the latest draft that we’ve been able to get our hands on: VisitPensacolaBylaws-Draft11_13.

Commissioner Gene Valentino has also drafted a proposal and county staff has done a comparison chart: Visit Pensacola comparison chart.

The meeting will be streamed over the internet. What you want to watch for is whether the hotel industry will push to get their plan on the agenda for Thursday, Nov. 21. The public will only have two days to review the bylaws.

The incoming commission chairman, Lumon May, has already said he wants the final vote to happen at the Dec. 5 regular meeting–which is the date the commissioners approved back in September. However, I know the commissioners getting calls from those wanting to curry favor with the hotel industry.

Power plays, Egos, Control over millions of dollar and the Public’s Interest—all will be in play.

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  • CJ Lewis November 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

    It is still a mystery why the Escambia County Commission cannot organize this public purpose function as a public body, make all of the appointments and do it all in the Sunshine. Even the Corporation’s by-laws already smell of “hanky-panky” and back room deals.

    Also, given that the City of Pensacola only makes up less than 4% of the land area of Escambia County, why not call it Visit Escambia County? Are we really that ashamed to admit we live in Escambia County? I have never met a single person living or working on Pensacola Beach or at Perdido Key who says, “I live in Pensacola.” or “I work in Pensacola.”

    Article II, Section 1(F) states, “The Corporation will comply with Florida State Statue §125.0104 and will expend tourism development tax (TDT) funds in accordance with the legal restrictions of this statute.” With respect to Article V, Section 3 “Diversity,” because the Corporation serves a public “State” purpose, it would be less likely to successfully circumvent its own by-laws if there was an express reference to a requirement to comply with the intent of Florida Statue §760.80 Minority Representation on Boards, Commissions, Councils and Committees.

    Additionally, Article V, Section 3 should expressly reference the most current Escambia County Census data to include the “Quick Facts” data sheet updated each year. Using that data, rounded up vice down, the Visit Pensacola Board should include at least six women (women constituting 50.5% of the Escambia County population) and three African-Americans (African-Americans constituting 22.9% of the Escambia County population). Do not give lip service to Diversity.

    In order to best ensure that the Escambia County Commission, public and media keep the Corporation on a short leash, closely monitoring all expenditures of public monies, the by-laws should require that all meetings of the Corporation to include subordinate body meetings must be documented by a verbatim meeting transcript prepared by a Certified Court Reporter with rough uncertified copies made available ASAP for public and media review.

    The proposed by-laws should require Escambia County residency for all Directors, Staff, “Honorary Membership” holders and all persons appointed to “divisions, councils, departments, and/or committees” and “task forces” of the Corporation. As written, it is possible that not one single Escambia County resident would be on the Corporation’s Board of Directors, etc.

    If the Corporation is acting as an instrumentality of Escambia County, should not the Escambia County Commission make all appointments to the Board of Directors, just as their counterparts the Pensacola City Council make all appointments to the private 501(c)(3) private developer Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc. operating and maintaining the Community Maritime Park economic development project? This seems like a very one-sided deal.

    Under Article III, Section 1 “Membership” why does the Board of Directors have the authority to reject members? If a prospective member conforms to the “Mission, Objectives and Programs” described in Article II, the Board of Directors should be required to – “shall” – accept the membership application. The Board of Directors should not be empowered to cherry pick its membership to ensure that only the “right” members get to join the club and vote. If the Board of Directors refuses to process a membership application, there should be an appeal process to the Escambia County Commission to be adjudicated during a quasi-judicial hearing.