When a successful leader is wooed away, it can be tempting to push for radical change. But the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council made the right call this month when it rejected the idea of converting the county's public tourism agency into a private-public partnership. There are lessons to be learned from the departure of the agency's executive director, but making how the county spends bed tax money less transparent is not one of them.
D.T. Minich had an impressive seven-year run as the executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, leaving the county this month in the middle of a fourth year of record tourism in the county. He is now executive director of Experience Kissimmee, Osceola County's tourism agency that is converting from a public agency into a public-private hybrid. He's expected to earn at least $38,000 more than the $164,000 he earned in Pinellas, and he will be able to shield specifics about the group's activities from public view, just as other public-private partnerships do in Florida, including Visit Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County and the state's economic development agency, Enterprise Florida.
Walter Krages of Tampa's Research Data Services told the Pinellas tourism council he felt private-public agencies could be more nimble. But council members also understood the downside in a county where small businesses play such a large role in tourism: Private-public agencies can be opaque, raising serious questions about just who is benefitting from the bed tax dollars all hoteliers are required to collect.
Not that Minich's departure shouldn't change things. The council should re-evaluate its compensation for top employees, lest it risk losing them. And it needs to find the right leader to continue Minich's efforts at industry coordination instead of balkanization. The council got it right: Build on what's working and fix only what's broken.