Despite naming three finalists, Pinellas County has reopened the search for its next tourism chief

An ad campaign by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. [Courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater]
An ad campaign by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. [Courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater]
Published Jun. 11, 2019

CLEARWATER — After naming three finalists for the top tourism booster job at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater last month and introducing them at an industry gathering, Pinellas County's administrator says he is extending the search.

Barry Burton confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that he wants to seek more candidates for the director opening at the county's tourism and marketing agency.

"This is obviously a very important position given the tourism market here in Pinellas," Burton said. "I want to find the very best candidate nationally and I have decided to continue advertising the position and seek other candidates."

Burton named the finalists early in May, all three seemingly qualified on paper to handle marketing the county and managing a roughly $40 million budget. They are: Tim Ramsberger, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's current chief operating officer; Tamara Pigott, the director of Lee County's tourism bureau; and Brent DeRaad, the CEO of Visit Tucson.

Burton hired Minnesota-based Searchwide Global to find candidates for the position after the former CEO left suddenly almost six months ago. Burton said the company would continue the search for candidates under the existing contract, so there will be no added costs.

When asked if the decision meant the three named finalists were no longer in the running, Burton said: "I want to see what other options are out there. I'll leave it at that."

On May 15, the three finalists attended a public "meet-and-greet" at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort so tourism leaders in the county had a chance to meet with them, ask questions and share their input with Burton. He said that the meeting helped inform his decision.

"I'm looking for someone with the skill set, background and proven experience in managing such a large organization," Burton said. "This is a key position."

The tourism bureau gets most of its money from the 6 percent tax Pinellas puts on overnight stays. The bulk of the money is made off of hotels and is also used to fund county projects.

According to the county, DeRaad manages a $10 million budget at Visit Tucson. At Lee County's tourism bureau, Pigott handles a $20 million budget.

In January, David Downing stepped down as CEO to work for a private company after the Times began requesting documents related to his county spending and use of vacation time.

In April, the agency's temporary CEO — former SeaWorld executive Jim Dean — left after about a month in his interim role to go head the Memphis Zoo.

Since then, Paul Sacco has been splitting his time as director of solid waste for the county and acting director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.