FORT WALTON BEACH — The Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council wants to keep Chairwoman Kathy Houchins at the helm for one more year.
But county commissioners would have to waive the TDC’s existing rules to make that happen. Under its policy, a chairman cannot serve more than two one-year terms.
Houchins has completed two terms as chairwoman, and TDC members say her experience is crucial to the organization.
“We wanted some continuity,” TDC member Patricia Hardiman said. “We wanted continuity of leadership in a time when we were transitioning not only to a new director but also to a new advertising agency.”
Since early summer, the TDC — which serves only in an advisory role — has seen major changes in how it conducts county business.
In May, the council and other county officials were rocked by the discovery of a financial scandal that 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’d used $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.
County commissioners hired Dan O’Byrne in August as the new director of the county’s tourism development department. In addition to dealing with increased oversight from commissioners, he also is negotiating a contract with a new advertising agency to handle Okaloosa’s tourism needs.
TDC members say keeping Houchins as chairwoman will help O’Byrne through the transition.
O’Byrne will present the TDC’s request to commissioners at their meeting Tuesday in Fort Walton Beach.
County Administrator Jim Curry said he doesn’t plan to make a recommendation to the board.
“It will require waiving the existing rule for an exceptional circumstance,” he said.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari C. Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.