Florida’s beleaguered tourism promoter has fired two of its top executives in the wake of revelations and criticism of a $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, an action that Gov. Rick Scott said was a matter of holding people accountable.

Scott confirmed Friday morning in Eatonville that Visit Florida’s President Will Seccombe has fired Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps.

And then the governor called on Seccombe to resign, and Visit Florida Board Chairman William Talbert III to reform the state agent company that has come under fire for keeping public business secret.

The pair of top executives are taking the fall for the Florida tourism marketing contract Pitbull got with Visit Florida in July 2015, particularly because of concerns by top lawmakers and others that the contract and its terms were kept secret until after House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Tuesday to have it declared public. Pitbull himself released it publicly Thursday morning.

Scott did not indicate that he played any role in advising Seccombe about the firings or the fallout. But speaking at a jobs event in the Orlando suburb of Eatonville, Scott declared his said he wants transparency.

“I believe in transparency in contracts. If you’re going to do business with the state, your contract has to be transparent,” Scott said.

Scott also said he was not aware of any other job actions at Visit Florida, saying “those were the only two.”

He also praised Pitbull for his cooperation and efforts to support Florida.

“Pitbull is a great Florida entertainer, a great Miami entertainer. He clearly supports our state. I wanted to thank him. I visited his charter school, and he’s a great community supporter,” Scott said.

Seccombe suddenly postponed a quarterly staff meeting scheduled for Friday morning to the afternoon. He and Visit Florida have not responded to requests to comment.

The governor also praised Visit Florida, the state-chartered non-profit company that plays the role of the state’s tourism promotion agency.

“At the same time, you’ve got to hold everybody accountable. I know that’s what’s happening right now at Visit Florida,” Scott said.

Visit Florida, formally known as the Florida Tourism Marketing Corporation, receives $74 million a year in tourism trust funds from the state of Florida, plus another $2 million in general revenue funds. After receiving notice from Visit Florida that Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions, considered virtually the entire contract to be trade secrets, and threatened to sue of Corcoran or anyone else disclosed any of its provisions, Corcoran sued first, seeking to get a circuit court judge in Tallahassee to rule invalid any such claims.

Pitbull responded Thursday by releasing the entire contract, via a tweet.

Later Thursday Corcoran withdrew the suit, getting a voluntary dismissal.

But the issue remained whether Visit Florida should offer any of its contractors the opportunity to keep their contracts secret, and Corcoran reserved the right to refile.

Scott appeared Friday to agree with Corcoran’s concern.

“It’s somebody’s money. It’s your money. it’s every taxpayers money. You should know how your government spends your money. So contracts need to be transparent,” Scott said.

Corcoran responded Friday with an ominous statement, suggesting Visit Florida’s very fate is at stake.

“Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded,” he said in a statement. “We’re not engaged in their hiring and firing decisions.”

Visit Florida gets $76 million a year in state money, though $74 million of that comes from a tourism trust fund.

Scott made it clear in his letter to Talbert that he thinks of Visit Flordia as “a steadfast part of Florida’s amazing record growth in tourism over the last six years.” But he expressed the same frustration that Corcoran and others have held about secrecy. His recommendations to Talbert were all about transparency and accountability.

He urged Talbert to consider reforms that would lead the corporation to publish external reports detailing public spending; all reports should include metrics and return on investment calculations; employee position and salary information; an organizational chart; relevant audits, tax returns, financial reports and summaries; reports required by statute; and public expenditure details by vendor and contract, with all contracts provided online.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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