Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Questions raised over cost of recruiting CEO for Visit Florida

TALLAHASSEE — After giving $45,000 to a recruiting firm to scour the nation for a new CEO, Florida's official tourism agency found only two candidates — both from obvious places within the state.

A government watchdog group has slammed Visit Florida for its hasty no-bid contract with Searchwide, a Minnesota-based recruiting firm that returned mediocre results.

The two candidates found by Searchwide came from local Florida tourism agencies — places Visit Florida could have easily canvassed on its own without spending $45,000 on an out-of-state recruiting firm.

"What is your process and why are we not having that many candidates after spending $45,000?" Danny Gaekwad, a Visit Florida Board member and hotelier, asked Searchwide vice president Jim Carra. "I don't spend that much money when I look for my CEOs."

Tourism executives from the Tampa Bay and Panama City Beach areas were the only two candidates Searchwide was able to recruit for final interviews, which took place on Monday.

Visit Florida's acting CEO, Will Seccombe, also sat for an interview. After former CEO Chris Thompson resigned, board members at Visit Florida originally considered naming Seccombe to the position. Worried that making that decision unilaterally could upset the agency's chief funders — Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature — the board opted instead to do a national search.

After spending $45,000 in taxpayer money for a brief, six-week, nationwide search, Visit Florida ended up with two local tourism supervisors and Seccombe as finalists. Searchwide was the same firm that recruited Seccombe to Visit Florida in 2007.

Dan Krassner, director of Integrity Florida, a group that advocates for tougher ethics laws, said Visit Florida's no-bid $45,000 contract was a sign of government waste.

"It's disappointing that $45,000 was spent and just two resumes from Florida were found," he said. "Where is the return on investment?"

Robert Skrob, director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organization, defended the organization's recruitment process, calling Searchwide the "category leader" in the industry.

"Finding the right candidate quickly, with an open and efficient process, welcome to all candidates, is exactly how government should work," he said.

Carra said his firm posted the job online, sent out inquiries to more than 150 executives and spoke to dozens of interested candidates over the past six weeks.

Board chairman Glenn Hastings said the contract with Searchwide was helpful because the volunteer board would not have been able to canvass dozens of resumes in such a short amount of time.

Timing is crucial because lawmakers and Scott will soon make decisions about how much taxpayer money to direct into Visit Florida's budget next year. While other agencies have weathered steep cuts over the past two years, Visit Florida has seen its taxpayer funding more than double to $54 million.

Board members said that going into the next legislative session without having a permanent CEO could harm the agency's future finances.

Comments
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17