an aerial view of a bridge spanning the ocean

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners said it wouldn’t tinker with the overall structure of the Tourist Development Council, in response to a series of audits that exposed failures in the TDC’s financial oversight and operations.

But commissioners want to make certain they have the power to swiftly remove any of the six appointed TDC board members. To do so, they added three sentences to the existing code section about the board. 

One of those sentences couldn’t be more clear that the BOCC runs the show when it comes to who stays on the TDC board, which still governs the agency. 

At its May 15 meeting, the BOCC moved forward with an ordinance to clarify in the county code that TDC board members serve “at the pleasure of the five commissioners,” just like the rest of the county boards including the planning commission.

Commissioners set a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that drops the new language into the code on July 17 in Marathon.

“Nothing else is changing regarding appointments,” county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood told Keys Weekly. “It just clarifies that people who serve are serving at the pleasure of the BOCC.”

TDC board members apply for the seats and are chosen by the BOCC.

The new rules would allow the removal of an already appointed TDC board member by a vote of at least three commissioners. 

The nine-person TDC board is made up of six Keys residents who work in the tourism industry. It’s rounded out by a county commissioner and two locally elected officials, including at least one from Key West. 

County Clerk Kevin Madok’s audits of the TDC and the companies it pays to promote the Keys as a tourist destination – NewmanPR, Tinsley Advertising and Two Oceans Digital – started in October 2023 with the release of an in-depth report that clocked the Keys tourism agency for a series of blunders in accounting and spending. 

It was the first county audit of the TDC in at least 20 years, a lapse that the BOCC blamed on the agency for not self-regulating. The BOCC in 1981 created the tourism council. 

Only one audit is forthcoming: the review of Two Oceans Digital’s financial practices. Madok said this one would take more time.

TDC board members serve staggered four-year terms, and they elect their own chairperson. Current chair Rita Irwin’s term expires Aug. 18. That slot is appointed by commissioner Michelle Lincoln.

While the board members will serve at the pleasure of the BOCC, the TDC holds some independence in running the tourism agency, which runs as a nonprofit called Visit the Florida Keys.

When the TDC fired its marketing director Stacey Mitchell in March, it was at the behest of County Mayor Holly Raschein, who showed up at the board meeting to represent the BOCC after commissioner Craig Cates’ motion at a previous TDC meeting to fire Mitchell was voted down.

The BOCC doesn’t meet in June. Its next regular meeting is July 17 at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center. 
Another change made in the wake of the failed TDC audits is that its board meetings are now broadcast on Monroe County Television, with the videos available on demand just like the BOCC’s. Previously, meetings were only captured on audio recordings that were available upon request. Since April, the TDC meetings are also available via Zoom.

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.