JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida House of Representatives recently passed a bill that could limit funding for the state's tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida. The governor has publicly spoken out against the bill repeatedly, saying it puts our state's tourism dollars at stake.
On Monday First Coast News asked the new president of Visit Florida, Ken Lawson, if he believed the reformed agency was transparent enough despite the house insisting it is not. Scott, no stranger to showing his passion for tourism, was quick to step in and answer it for himself.
"Can I just answer that for a minute? If something goes wrong what do you do? You fix it, you don't shut it down," said Scott.
Scott credits Visit Florida for record tourism numbers in 2016 and for helping the First Coast, specifically St. Augustine, get back on its feet after Hurricane Matthew.
"Did Renner add transparency?" asked Scott. "No, he shut it down, he wants to completely eliminate Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida."
Originally Rep. Paul Renner did want to eliminate both agencies, but when the bill didn't pass he amended it and he continues to defend it today.
"We're giving million dollar contracts to multi-million dollar celebrities," said Renner. "Then we need to take a new look at what Visit Florida is doing."
After the mishap with rapper Pitbull, when the agency secretively used taxpayers money to get endorsements in his music videos and on his social media, Visit Florida, hired new management but Renner accuses the agency of hiring from within.
"That's wrong!" Lawson fired back on Monday. Lawson said they have a board of directors from all over the state so they do anything but "hire within".
"He did not sit down with us before drafting the bill, had he done that, we could have had a dialogue in terms of what's right for us in terms of transparency, because Visit Florida wants transparency," said Lawson.
Lawson said they're transparent now more than ever
On VisitFlorida.org, you can now find financial information, audits and salaries for the staff.
There is no companion bill in the senate at this time, but Lawson said it's still frustrating because it conveys their agency in a bad light and could hurt their budget in time
Renner says he supports tourism but he wants better checks and balances. "If you have someone you've handed a credit card to and they abused that spending why would you hand that credit card back to them without some form of accountability in place?" said Renner.
Visit Florida says they hired an outside party to ensure they are transparent and to help them establish better protocols and contracts in this transition.
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