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Monday, January 9, 2017

After Pitbull controversy, Visit Florida prepares to answer to Scott, lawmakers

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 5:38 PM

  • Screengrab via YouTube
Visit Florida postponed a marketing committee meeting Monday as the public-private tourism agency —- whose state money is in the crosshairs of House leaders —- prepares to meet Gov. Rick Scott's call for new leadership.

Board Chairman William Talbert said he delayed the marketing talks until after the Visit Florida board has a chance to approve a response Tuesday to Scott's proposed agency reforms.

"We have other committee issues, and with the response to the governor, we just wanted to move forward," Talbert said Monday during a break from another committee meeting at Disney's Contemporary Resort. "We wanted to focus all of our attention on leadership."

Talbert declined to elaborate on the response he will recommend. But he said the agency will defend how it spends money to promote the state, something that has been questioned by leaders of the Florida House.

"We're going to move forward and make a very strong case for why statewide tourism marketing is very important for jobs and the economy," Talbert said.

The full board will meet Tuesday for the first time since Will Seccombe agreed last month to step down as president and CEO and the positions of two other executives were eliminated. Seccombe became president and CEO in November 2012.

Visit Florida staff members maintain they are focused on their jobs, while noting the current year's funding expires June 30. Talbert declined to discuss Seccombe and speculation that Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson could be a potential replacement.

Lawson sat in on an Audit Committee meeting Monday. Lawson said he was there "just learning."

In a Dec. 16 letter, Scott praised Visit Florida for being a "steadfast part" of Florida's record-breaking tourism the past six years. But Scott also advised Talbert to consider several changes, including publishing online details about agency spending, employee salaries and vendor contracts.

Scott also used the letter to advise Seccombe to step aside amid a controversy over an expired $1 million contract with a Miami hip-hop artist Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull.

In addition to the Pitbull deal, the agency has faced criticism from House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other lawmakers for ongoing sponsorship deals with the London-based Fulham Football Club for $1.25 million and an IMSA racing team for $2.9 million.

Corcoran has aggressively questioned a proposal to earmark $76 million next fiscal year for the agency's marketing efforts and has expressed doubts about the need for Visit Florida.

"Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded," Corcoran has tweeted.

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