The Visit Florida board on Tuesday agreed to pay $73,000 to the agency’s ousted CEO and appointed state Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Ken Lawson to immediately step in as a replacement.
The moves came after a controversy that included House leaders last month exposing an expired $1 million contract between the tourism-marketing agency and Miami rapper Pitbull to promote the state.
The controversy led to Gov. Rick Scott requesting the exit of longtime Visit Florida president and CEO Will Seccombe.
The Visit Florida board on Tuesday voted 26-0 to accept a settlement agreement that included the $73,000 payment, effectively ending Seccombe’s employment with the public-private agency.
The board also, in a voice vote, appointed Lawson at a salary of $175,000 a year to lead the agency, which must lobby state lawmakers in the coming months to maintain its public funding.
Lawson, who will take over Visit Florida today, said his initial focus will be meeting Scott’s recommendations to make the agency more transparent.
“Since I’ve been the secretary (of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation) the last six years, I’ve had to manage a budget of $155 million and account for every dollar because it comes from the public, so therefore I’m going to do the same for Visit Florida,” Lawson said after the board meeting at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
“Also I’m going to make sure the Legislature understands the value of Visit Florida and that we understand their role in overseeing us, so there are no questions in the future,” he said.
Scott appointed Matilde Miller as interim secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Miller is a longtime department official, most recently serving as chief of staff.
As for the departure of Seccombe, Visit Florida board Chairman William Talbert said Seccombe agreed to waive provisions in his contract that allowed a severance worth up to 18 months of his salary if fired “without cause.”
“I’m ready to move on,” Talbert said.
Board member Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, while voting for both actions, said it appeared recent changes at the agency were “still being shrouded in a kind of lack of transparency as to why this is happening.”
Talbert said he was directed by the agency’s executive committee on Dec. 21 to work on the separation agreement with Seccombe, after Scott recommended new leadership Dec. 16.
Seccombe did not attend the meeting Tuesday.
Seccombe, who has been at the helm of Visit Florida since November 2011, was paid $293,000 a year by the agency. The agency allocated $120,000 a year from state funding for Seccombe’s contract.
Agency officials, noting they have to turn their energies on securing money from the Legislature, were quick to point out that tax dollars would not be used for the lump severance payment.
Visit Florida received $78 million from the Legislature for the current budget year that ends June 30, and Scott is expected to request $76 million from lawmakers for the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers will consider the request during the annual session that starts March 7.