Minutes of Visit Florida board of directors reveal rifts in firing of tourism agency chief Bud Nocera
Wake up and good morning. It seemed only moments ago that Visit Florida chief Bud Nocera was toasted as one the country's top state tourism officials. But that's so yesterday. Now Nocera is out at the state tourism marketing agency and the political heat is focused on his departure pay package.
Visit Florida's decision this month to can Nocera without cause will cost the publicly subsidized agency $537,000 in severance payments. But that decision, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel's "Tourism Central Florida" blog, wasn't a unanimous one. The blog reports that minutes of Visit Florida's May 8 board of directors meeting show that Kevin Healy, an executive at Orlando-based AirTran Airways (shown in second photo), voted against firing Nocera, who had spent six years at the helm of the state's tourism-marketing agency.
Healy's was the sole no vote against 15 yes votes, the tourism blog says. But the minutes show several other board members raised questions about why they were being asked to fire Nocera, who was named the state tourism director of the year in 2007 by a national tourism industry trade group.
For example, reports the blog, "after being told that Visit Florida's executive committee had unanimously endorsed the decision to fire Nocera, Glenn Hastings, the chief executive of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that he had always heard only glowing performance evaluations for Nocera. He said he was 'concerned' that future internal evaluations be better explained to the full board of directors."
Richard Goldman, the chairman of Visit Florida's board and the chief marketing officer at Amelia Island Plantation, repeatedly told board members that Visit Florida's executive committee decided it was time for a leadership change and that the move was not solely to appease state lawmakers, many of whom grilled Nocera and Visit Florida over agency spending during legislative hearings earlier this year, the Orlando Sentinel blog reports. Here's Goldman's statement on the matter.
The blog goes on to describe a clearly uncomfortable board of directors meeting in which some members chafed at the idea they were firing Nocera to soothe elected officials. Goldman called the move "an industry decision." Nocera was criticized by state lawmakers this spring for his management of the tax-subsidized tourism marketing organization. Among other things, legislators faulted Visit Florida for having spent tax dollars on a customer-service call center located outside the state.
The minutes also show Visit Florida expected that firing Nocera would spark a public backlash. Nocera's contract entitles him to a lucrative severance package that includes continuing his roughly $220,000 a year salary -- and $700 a month car allowance -- for the next two years, among other benefits. The funds are reported to be from private contributions, not taxpayer sources.
In a brief press release, Nocera was replaced as Visit Florida CEO by Chris Thompson (shown in last photo), the former chief operating officer.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist