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Tourist Development Council Meets - Number 4 Pick Recommended to The 5 - Nobody Smiling

Posted October 16, 2014  09:21 am

Hotel Owner Mahendra Patel, along with everyone else, was not smiling about the recommendation to hire Paula Vann.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's high noon meeting of the Tourist Development Council (TDC) gave no surprise when the TDC was presented with a choice to either buck up against the County 5 (The 5) again, and seek a qualified TDC Director with tourism, sports, and vacation experience, or to go along with The 5's flexed muscle appointment of Paula Vann, the daughter-in-law of one of Columbia County's premier good ole' boys, Marc Vann.

At the last month's TDC meeting, the TDC, as reflected in the minutes, recommended candidate Gary Pearce to be its next director.

Hotel owner Nick Patel said that Mr. Pearce was his top choice. "He was head and shoulders above the rest."

Board member Nupur Shukla was concerned about the second choice if Mr. Pearce was not an option.

City Councilman Zack Paulk [an executive with Walmart] said he believed no other candidate could take the TDC to the next level. "He was very concerned about the other choices."

Councilman Paulk moved to send a recommendation to the County 5 to hire Mr. Pearce.

The minutes did not record one dissenting vote.

Cecil Shaw raised some serious concerns about the level of interest that Paula Vann and Elizabeth Porter have in tourism.

Zack Paulk agreed and believed we should not hire cheap and local.

Com Williams and Paulette Lord listen to the TDC's comments regarding the choice of the new director.

Long-time County Commissioner Ronald Williams, Chairman of the TDC, began yesterday's discussion, "There's been a lot of discussion about the new director of the TDC. I know you guys worked real hard doing the interviews and developing and making your recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners... Ms. Scarlet [Com. Scarlet Frisina] and I wasn't at that last meeting that you had, and we didn't have any input in there, but I did not want the board [The 5] to reject the recommendation of the TDC without comin' back to the board and tellin' them why I thought the Board wanted to reject that."

• There was no public discussion regarding the salary issue at the last meeting of The 5. Chairman Williams, also Chair of the County 5, removed the item from the agenda.
• Mr. Pearce was number one on the list. Elizabeth Porter was tied for no. 2; Paula Vann was number 4.

Commissioner Williams continued, "The board felt that the amount of money and the incentive package that the fellow wanted to be the new TDC director would put the pay scale of Columbia County so out of kilter... The Board felt that it was just too far out of kilter."


Mike Collin's reflects during the conversation.

TDC member Mike Collins thought the County 5 would make an effort "to reach some happy medium" when it came to the salary and benefit package the number one choice was asking.

"If we're not very careful -- this is a multimillion dollar business. Our staff -- they're understaffed and overworked -- those are the sort of things that we've got to correct -- we're going to go backwards instead of forwards," he said.

Assistant County Manager Ben Scott said he called the number one candidate, Mr. jPearce. According to Mr. Scott, "He informed me there is no wiggle room... This is my minimum. This is it."

Mr. Scott did not reveal the County's offer.

TDC member Collins followed up, "I think we are going to be remiss if we do not get the best person available. I just don't believe you can have an on-the-job learning experience with where we're at right now."

Commissioner Williams said, "It would be my recommendation, since there wasn't any room for negotiations, that we go to the next person that the board felt during the original interview -- advertisement -- before we really advertise -- we had Ms. Vann ranked second in that position. (see "Facts" above)  Although Ms. Vann do not have TDC experience, she have a masters - bachelors degree in advertisement. I guess the committee felt she ranked number two behind the gentleman from Orlando."

Asst. County Manager, Ben Scott.

Mr. Scott added, "She [Ms. Vann] has a finance degree; a bachelors degree in finance; she has a masters degree in business administration. We felt she was your second best candidate."

Someone asked Mr. Scott, what happened to the candidate from Tennessee. (Her resume showed she had tourism and TDC experience)

Mr. Scott responded, "She was interviewed in the initial rounds of interviews. What we felt about her experience was she basically ran a welcome center where they had brochures, and people just came in. She really wasn't out trying to develop tourism in the area. I would like to see this process put to bed. I would like to see us get this person hired and get them on board."

Mr. Collins said, "We've got a sports complex that brings the money in. Right now. That's what we've got. I just can't see us not having somebody that knows something about that process."

Commissioner Williams responded with one of his famous homilies, "Mike, I know exactly what you're sayin'. I've got fifty cent here and fifty cent here -- I got a dollar. But I got two fifty cents over here that equal a dollar -- it -- believe it or not, it don't add up although it's still a dollar, but it don't just add up."

In Columbia County: Home-boys need only apply

Commissioner Williams discussed the consequences of hiring somebody from out of town and brought up the recent departure of the County's experienced economic development director, Jesse Quillen. "Just as soon as the opportunity became for him to get closer to his family (unintelligible) 'I'm goin back home.'"

This was not true. Mr. Quillen's family had moved to Lake City.

The TDC also has a position for a sports director, as well as an executive director. It was mentioned that the combined salaries of the two positions may have been close to the salary of the TDC's number one pick.

The motion to hire Ms. Vann

Commissioner Williams asked for a motion to hire Paula Vann as the new TDC director. There was a long pause and a lot of long faces.

A TDC member broke the silence, "What salary did she request?"

Mr. Scott answered, "I don't have that in front of me. I think she is wanting in range of 50-55."

There was more discussion.

Mr. Collins added, "We never interviewed any of those people. We thought we'd get a chance, but we never did."

Mr. Scott volunteered that he didn't know "if the person we hire as TDC Director can market sports."

There was more discussion. There was silence.

It was obvious no one wanted to make the motion to hire Ms. Vann.

Commissioner Williams: "We need to go on."

Finally, Commissioner Williams said, "The floor is open for a motion. We need to go on."

Someone made a motion, and it was seconded. Mike Collins abstained. Hotel owner Mahendra Patel didn't vote.

Columbia County's infamous 5 will have the final word tonight when it gets to approve Ms. Paula Vann for the position.

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