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Top candidate emerges before search for new Hillsborough tourism CEO even begins

TAMPA — Officially, Santiago Corrada's title is mayor's chief of staff. Unofficially, he is the city's troubleshooter in chief.

Since the city hired him in 2004, he has helped plan Super Bowl XLIII and the Republican National Convention, cleaned up Gasparilla, got the Tampa Convention Center back in the black, and along the way solved whatever other problems two mayors needed solved.

"When we set out a course, he's the guy that gets it implemented," said his current boss, Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

That's probably why members of the board that oversees Tampa Bay & Co., the tourism agency of Hillsborough County, recently approached Corrada about their top job.

"I've had some board members ask me about it," he said. "I would look at it. You have to. It's a great, great job. It's something I would definitely have to consider."

There's just one problem: Tampa Bay & Co. has not officially started its search for a new president and CEO. The board's executive committee is set to hold its first discussion about selecting a leader on Dec. 6.

The agency needs a CEO after Kelly Miller abruptly resigned Oct. 31. He spent just 11 months on the job. Corrada said several members of the board of directors approached him to gauge his interest — and he is interested. He was not offered the job and is not negotiating with anyone. He also declined to identify who approached him.

Ron Ciganek, the former chairman who still sits on the executive committee, said he didn't know board members had already approached Corrada. He also doesn't know if anyone else has been approached, or if that kind of contact was against the agency's rules.

"First I've heard of it," Ciganek said. "We've got a real enthusiastic board that believes in the economic development opportunities that Tampa Bay & Co. has.

"Santiago has been a great leader in our community locally. I can see potentially why a board member would ask why he might have an interest."

Tampa Bay & Co. is a $10 million nonprofit that receives 80 percent of its funding from the county's tourist development tax on hotel beds. It's mission is to promote tourism, but its primary purpose is to fill the city's publicly owned convention center. It has more than three dozen directors on its board, a mix of private sector business leaders and a smattering of public sector officials. Corrada, for example, is the mayor's representative on the board.

But Tampa Bay & Co. has in the past had trouble conducting a publicly transparent search for a new leader under the state's sunshine laws. When Miller was picked in 2011, the agency did not publicly disclose the list of finalists beforehand, or when the board would vote on its top choice, or even his salary.

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times this month, a spokesman insisted that the agency is still exempt from Florida's public records law — but also finally revealed Miller's salary: $214,000. Miller's predecessor, former CEO Paul Catoe, made $316,000 in 2010. Across the bay, the salary of the executive director of Pinellas County's tourism agency is $159,000.

The mayor said there's no doubt that Corrada, 48, would be a great pick to run the agency.

"First of all, I think anywhere Santiago goes, he will be a benefit to the organization," Buckhorn said. "That's why I don't want to lose him.

"Secondarily, I think he would bring a breath of fresh air and a recognition, having worked in government, that sunshine is important. Transparency is important. Relationships with the media are important. I think he would transform the culture."

Corrada, whose current salary is $153,000, also has plenty of experience working with Tampa Bay & Co. from his days running the convention center and most recently as the city's point man for the RNC.

"To me, it's a good organization with a good staff," he said. "There are some questions about the sunshine and public records, issues that need to be looked at.

"My public background plays well into that discussion."

Ciganek said the Dec. 6 executive committee meeting will get the ball rolling on the CEO search, starting with a review of the job description. No decision has been made about what kind of search to conduct, he said, but he expects it will be a public one.

"It will be an advertised search, a broad spectrum search of local and national candidates," Ciganek said. "That's what the meeting is about, to define the process.

"We'll keep you guys informed about how that process will go."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

Top candidate emerges before search for new Hillsborough tourism CEO even begins 11/27/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 12:13am]

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