SANTA ROSA BEACH — Walton County commissioners have rejected bids from executive search firms that had responded to a county invitation to bid on its search for an executive director for the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC).
Instead, commissioners decided Tuesday to bring the search in-house and handle it through the county’s Human Resources Division — although they didn’t completely close the door on the possible eventual use of a search firm to find candidates for the post.
The decision to bring the search in-house, at least for now, runs directly counter to a request from the TDC board of directors. The board is a group of hospitality industry professionals, local officials — including County Commission Chairman Mike Barker — and business people whose enterprises collect the 5% “bed tax” charged to visitors to the south end of the county.
Those collections, in the millions of dollars annually, fund TDC activities such as marketing the county to potential and returning visitors, funding a lifeguard program and making infrastructure improvements related to the county’s public beaches.
The TDC board in March asked the county to engage an executive search firm to help find a new tourism director following the departure of former TDC director of administration Jason Cutshaw, who left in March for another job opportunity.
Cutshaw, who had been with the TDC for five years as its director of administration, was placed in a co-leadership position at the TDC following the commission’s unexpected decision last May to terminate the contract of former TDC executive director Jay Tusa.
In the wake of Tusa’s departure, the county installed Cutshaw and Brian Kellenberger, then the TDC’s director of beach operations, in co-equal positions at the head of the TDC. Since Cutshaw’s departure, Kellenberger has been serving as the executive head.
With its Tuesday decision, the commission rejected a proposal from SearchWide Global, a Minnesota-based executive search firm. The SearchWide Global proposal, chosen by a county panel from the two proposals received for the search — the other came from Greenville, South Carolina-based Find Good People — set its fee at 33% of the annual base salary of the placed candidate, along with reimbursement for expenses such as candidate travel, background checks and job postings.
The county’s current salary range for the position is from $82,585 to $144,385, but the TDC board had previously indicated to county officials that the range would need to be adjusted up to attract suitable candidates.
Kellenberger told commissioners Tuesday that the TDC had not budgeted the executive search as a line item, but that it did have administrative funds sufficient to cover the price quoted by SearchWide Global. TDC expenditures must be approved by the County Commission.
Despite that the TDC appears to have the needed funds for an executive search firm, Commissioner Danny Glidewell said, “That sounds like an extreme amount of money for something we could do. We have an HR director who is supposed to do that.”
Glidewell subsequently made a motion to reject both executive search bids “and advertise it the way we advertise everything else.”
Commissioner William “Boots” McCormick, noting that the tourism director now reports to the county administrator — a change from Tusa’s days when he was under the supervision of the commission — suggested that hiring a search firm would put the search outside the purview of the county administrator.
“I think Mr. Kervin (Nathan Kervin, the county’s Human Resources director) is capable of writing a job description,” Glidewell said, “and he’s certainly capable of advertising (the vacancy). … I just don’t see the need in spending a bunch of money reinventing the wheel.”
“I think it would give us the opportunity to see what kind of responses we get,” said Commission Chairman Mike Barker, as Commissioner Trey Nick noted that the executive search option “is still on the table, I mean we can still go back to that if we need to.”