Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Like Pitbull deal, terminating Florida tourism chief will be pricey

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's tourism marketing chief is on the brink of losing his job over a controversial contract with musician Pitbull, but he likely won't be leaving empty-handed.

If Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe is fired "without cause" this morning, his contract calls for him to collect his base salary for 18 months, which would amount to at least $439,000. That money would be paid in a lump sum within 35 days of his termination. He would also collect a yet-to-be-determined sum equal to 18 months of the monthly premiums paid by Visit Florida for his health benefits.

Seccombe is barely holding on to his job after Gov. Rick Scott last month called for his resignation amid growing political ire over a mostly secret contract with Pitbull that paid the entertainer $1 million to promote Florida in music videos and on social media. Seccombe said the deal helped Visit Florida reach millions of Pitbull fans who avoid traditional media. Seccombe's position is on shaky ground despite Florida having record tourism in each of the past four years.

Firing Seccombe with cause would avoid the payouts, but the agency would have to prove Seccombe did not perform his duties, despite record tourism, or was part of serious misconduct.

"All of that will be decided at Tuesday's board of directors meeting," said Tim DeClaire, director of global PR for Visit Florida.

While Scott has asked for the resignation, he does not have the power to remove him from his position that pays $293,000 a year. Visit Florida is a private-public partnership that collects $78 million a year from taxpayers and received more than $140 million from the private sector. The power to hire or fire a CEO rests with the 31-member Visit Florida board of directors, which meets today near Orlando.

The Pitbull deal in 2015 went into effect on the same day Seccombe's latest employment contract started. Seccombe's deal runs through June 2018.

The Legislature has tried to rein in "golden parachutes" to government employees in the past. But state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said the problem in this case is Visit Florida is not a purely governmental agency. Technically, the salary for Seccombe could be coming from private sources and not entirely from taxpayers.

Brandes said he doesn't like the big payouts, but often paying is better than racking up big legal bills and then paying out.

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