Historic City News reported last month that the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners was in the process of comprehensively examining the Tourist Development Council.
As part of that process, they solicited applications for all non-municipal seats on the TDC. The application deadline was last Friday, August 7th.
The TDC is comprised of nine members appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. Three are elected officials, one being Chairman of the BCC or his/her designee, one from the County’s most populous municipality, and one from another County municipality.
Per Florida Statute, the remaining six members of the Council shall be persons who are involved in the tourist industry and who have demonstrated an interest in tourist development, of which members, not less than three nor more than four shall be owners or operators of motels, hotels, recreational vehicle parks, or other tourist accommodations in the county and subject to the bed tax.
However, on August 25th, the entire Tourist Development Council will be retired — following a 3 to 2 vote today by the St. Johns County Commission during a special meeting and workshop.
Current County Commissioner Ken Bryan made the motion about 2:30 p.m., seconded by Commissioner Mark Miner and supported by appointed Commissioner Phil Mays; over objections voiced by Commissioner Ron Sanchez that the Board will be sending the wrong message to Council volunteers and the public.
County Commission Chairman Cyndi Stevenson sided with Sanchez against the motion emphasizing that it is difficult to get qualified citizens to participate on volunteer boards appointed by the commission. Stevenson says she has been told in the past that potentially high quality appointees have declined to participate on boards because they feel that they are not heard and are unfairly dismissed without cause.
Mays claims that his support of this motion is not an indictment of the members of the current Tourist Development Council – “all of them could re-apply and might be re-appointed”, Mays said.
The groups who spoke from the floor represented a mix of hotel, retail, attraction, heritage and other tourism stakeholders.
At the 3:00 p.m. afternoon break, the Commission consensus was to leave the current 40%-30%-30% split of the first two cents of the bed tax unchanged, continue to attribute the third cent to Category I and to have county staff come up with a working proposal regarding to utilize a newly proposed fourth cent; that could be levied if the Board sees fit.
The organizational chart presented by current Commissioner Bryan indicates at least two new “Executive Director” positions within the three “bureaus” to operate the TDC. Sanchez objected to accepting any re-organization proposal that obligated the county to hire additional “high priced” directors. Bryan says that the positions are needed in order to get “professional” management of the TDC operation and that they could be paid for from the additional fourth cent in bed tax if adopted. Bryan said that those positions need not be filled immediately; a final decision on hiring was not made — opting to look at those directors again in the future.
Chairman Stevenson closed the meeting by recognizing TDC Executive Director Glenn Hastings; stating that Hastings has shown a good foundation in history, advertising, hotel, industry and other aspects of tourism including nature and culture including a broad view representing the groups involved. Stevenson said that Hastings has done a good job for tourism in St. Johns County.
On recommendation of County Administrator Michael Wanchick, the Board decided to re-open the application period for the TDC until Friday, August 14th.