Governor, Legislators Get Visit Florida’s Top Three Officials Fired on Same Day
One wonders who would want to take a $120,000-a-year job to head up Visit Florida and the $78 million they receive from the state after what has happened to Will Seccombe, ousted last week from his position as president and CEO of the public-private sector organization. At issue, an expired $1 million dollar contract with an internationally-known rapper whose video on behalf of the state has generated 10.9 million YouTube views of a flashy performance celebrating the state’s beaches.
Seccombe, four years in the post, had to submit his resignation last Friday as requested by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in the midst of a controversy—primarily over the $1 million contract with contract with Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull, a Miami-born-and-reared hip-hop artist (he still lives there) who has more than 23 million followers on Twitter alone. During the tenure of his contract with Florida, Pitbull posted two tweets touting Florida’s destinations and attractions. These, in turned, prompted hundreds of thousands of queries/leads from Pitbull’s global followers.
For overseas travelers, Florida is the second most visited U.S. state—New York is first—with one out of every four overseas travelers visiting the state.
(Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office)
The concern that grew into rage on the part of state legislators over the Pitbull contract developed when Visit Florida maintained it could not release the contract details because it contained proprietary information and details regarding Pitbull’s production company. Following the decision of Visit Florida not to make the contract public, state legislators filed suit. This prompted Pitbull to release the contract himself, via his Twitter account.
“Scott’s action came as House leaders have aggressively questioned a proposal to earmark $76 million next fiscal year for the agency’s marketing efforts,” reported the local CBS affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla.
Some legislators also questioned the “Florida values” that were conveyed by Pitbull in the centerpiece video—“Sexy Beaches”—that is used to promote the state to potential visitors.
You can view the complete version of the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOUQ3kfxEaQ
Critics of Visit Florida also took the agency to task for its ongoing sponsorship deals with the London-based Fulham Football Club, London’s oldest professional soccer team. Orlando is the site of soccer training camps, popular with British visitors, and also its own major league soccer team plus an IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) racing team. IMSA, the top racing body sanctioning body, is based in Daytona Beach, which feeds racing fans into the Orlando area.
For “spending hawk” legislators, the million dollar contract with Pitbull and the sponsorship of recreational activities with no immediately apparent value to the revenue side of the ledger gave them a field day for laying into Visit Florida.
— Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral), told the Tallahassee Democrat that the $1 million Pitbull contract was a blatant misuse of tax dollars that could have been better spent on law enforcement salaries. “If you read the contract, two times to tweet something for $1 million?” Eagle said. “Think of the better ways we could have spent that money, like think about how many more law enforcement officers we could have on the streets.”
—”There are plenty of ways we could better spend that money, things like schools that never seem to get enough,” said Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dana Beach). “Why are we going to hand that money to somebody who won’t even tell us how they’re going to spend it?”
Seccombe was not the only victim of this episode. Before he resigned, he had to terminate two senior agency officials—Vangie McCorvey, chief financial and operating officer, and chief marketing officer Paul Phipps, who had the misfortune to be associated with the Pitbull contract and the organization’s refusal to make it public. Earlier in the day on which the three agency leaders were let go, state legislators had eliminated funding for the jobs of McCorvey and Phipps.
The controversy-turned frenzy was such that it required that three people, not just one, be thrown under the bus. Over the past weekend, email conversations within the tour and travel industry expressed disbelief and shock over the situation. In the discussions that we had, or monitored, regarding this episode, two ironies emerged:
First — While asking the Visit Florida Board Chairman William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami CVB and chairman of the Visit Florida board, to do the firing, Scott praised the accomplishments of the agency under Seccombe’s four-year tenure.
Second — Everyone agrees: Who would take such a job for $120,000 a year—a sum that is less than half the salary of CEOs at several large CVBs and DMOs throughout the U.S. with lesser budgets and programs affecting smaller constituencies? Perhaps the budget-conscious ignoramuses at Florida state legislature will crowd source the funding for the positions left vacant by the departures of Seccombe, McCorvey, and Phipps through a Kickstarter campaign.