The board of Visit Florida has hired the state's top
business regulator as its new CEO.
Kenneth Lawson, who has headed Florida's 1,600-employee
Department of Business and Professional Regulation since 2011, will take over
the post Wednesday at a salary of $175,000. He replaces Will Seccombe, whose
resignation over the fallout from refusing to disclose the terms of the $1
million promotional contract Visit Florida signed with the rapper Pitbull in
2015 was accepted by the board Tuesday.
Board members promised an era of increased transparency and
public accountability as they unanimously accepted the recommendation of
chairman William Talbert III to hire Lawson.
"He knows how to walk those halls. He knows the
process. He does understand that we take government dollars," said board
member Carol Dover, who heads the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
Visit Florida is funded by public and private money.
Seccombe agreed to step aside with a severance of $73,000,
all of which is to come out of private funds, Talbert said. Under his contract,
if the dismissal were to have been deemed without cause, he could have demanded
18 months of severance at his salary of $293,000, plus 18 months of benefits
and earned performance compensation of approximately $60,000. Seccombe's
departure comes pursuant to a Dec. 16 request by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Visit Florida is receiving $78 million from the state in the
fiscal year that ends June 30. But Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran has
threatened to pull all funding from next year's budget.
Corcoran led the charge against secrecy in the organization
late last year, which ultimately led Pitbull to disclose the financial details
of his contract. Under the contract, the rapper featured Visit Florida's
Twitter hashtag on video screens at his concerts as well as on his 2015 New
Year's Eve special from Miami that was broadcast on Fox. He also filmed the
video for his single "Sexy Beaches" on Florida sands.
The video, which features bikini-clad models and provocative
lyrics, irked Corcoran, a Republican from the Tampa suburb of Land O' Lakes,
who called the lyrics, "degrading and horrible," in a late December
In threatening to block funding for Visit Florida, Corcoran
has questioned how much impact the entity's promotional work has had in drawing
tourists to Florida and also whether the public should be subsidizing the
marketing campaigns of Fortune 500 companies.
With his appointment, Lawson, a lawyer by trade, takes over
a marketing organization that has traditionally been headed by people with a
marketing background. Dover said that Visit Florida has plenty of marketing
professionals working underneath its CEO. What the entity needs now, she said,
is a leader who can help it operate with accountability required of an
organization that receives public funding.
Correction: Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation has 1,600 employees. A previous version of this report had the wrong number.