FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County Commissioners on Tuesday denied the Tourist Development Council’s request to allow Kathy Houchins to serve as chairwoman for a third year.
Commissioners would have had to waive existing TDC rules because the current policy prohibits a chairman from serving more than two one-year terms. The TDC requested the waiver because it said Houchins’ experience would be helpful to Dan O’Byrne, the county’s new tourism development director.
Commissioners praised Houchins’ service but voted unanimously not to grant the TDC’s request.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to do this,” said Commissioner Dave Parisot, who also serves as a TDC member. “The TDC is an advisory committee. I don’t think retaining long-term membership … would be necessary for Mr. O’Byrne to do his job.”
Parisot said many TDC members even have supported the idea of having shorter terms and more turnover on the council.
Commissioner Kelly Windes, who was sworn into office at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, agreed.
“There’s times when you need to make waivers on policy,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the people of Okaloosa County for this to be one of those times.”
Commissioner Wayne Harris said the county needs to “stay tuned to its existing policies.”
“Kathy (Houchins) is a phenomenal friend and a phenomenal person,” he said. “I just think we’re sending the wrong message when we wave a policy we’ve just established.”
In early May, the TDC was among many county departments rocked by the discovery of a financial scandal that ultimately claimed the life of former tourism director Mark Bellinger.
Bellinger, 53, died May 4 of a drug overdose amid fraud allegations. The FBI discovered that he spent $747,000 from a BP oil spill grant to illegally buy his home in Destin. Authorities also found that Bellinger had made numerous questionable expenditures with bed tax money, including $710,000 for a Marquis yacht.
O’Byrne, who was hired in August to replace Bellinger, has been dealing with increased oversight from commissioners and more stringent policies, particularly those governing spending.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.