Political Pushback Spurs Visit Florida To Name New President

Jan 10, 2017

The state’s publicly funded tourism agency has a new director. The leadership change comes as state lawmakers begin debating whether Visit Florida, and similar agencies, should exist at all.

Credit Visit Florida / http://www.visitflorida.com/en-us.html

Outgoing Visit Florida President Will Seccombe will get $73,000 in severance. Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson will replace him immediately. Governor Rick Scott ordered the leadership change due to Visit Florida’s handling of a million dollar contract with the rapper Pitbull. Despite using taxpayer funds, the agency attempted to keep the deal secret, until state lawmakers sued. The agency is in the political fight of its life, and board member Carol Dover says the group must work within public information requirements in order to survive.

“We do take government dollars, folks. We want them, right? So if we’re gonna take them, we have to take what comes with them. And that is the responsibility to the public,” Dover said.

State leaders are divided over the tourism agency’s future: Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran is considering shutting down Visit Florida, and other groups like Enterprise Florida and Space Florida. Governor Rick Scott sees the public-private partnerships as vital to his economic development efforts, and he's repeatedly pledged his support. Board member Gene Prescott says the agency has been responsive to Scott's requests, but he's still smarting from the ouster.

“I’d like the world perhaps to be different. But it’s not. So this is what we’re dealing with. And what I think we really have to turn our energies to is to get our appropriations from this legislative group,” Prescott said.

Incoming president Ken Lawson has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Tampa, as an enforcement agent in the Department of the Treasury, and is a Marine Corps veteran. In 2011, Governor Rick Scott appointed Lawson as head of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, an agency that helps monitor the states's restaurants and hotels. Outside of his tenure at DBPR, Lawson's tourism experience is limited.