a group of people standing in front of a large sign
A family poses for a photo at the Southernmost Point marker in Key West, Fla., one of the most photographed icons in the Florida Keys. Photo by LAURENCE NOAH/Florida Keys News Bureau

The search for a new president/CEO to take the wheel of the multimillion-dollar Florida Keys tourism agency has narrowed to six finalists chosen from an original pool of 24 applicants.

None are Keys residents, although one owns a home in Key West. On June 28, the county-appointed search committee made this short list of candidates for the top job at the Monroe County Tourist Development Council:

  • Joseph Boschulte, commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Island Department of Tourism
  • Laura Chmielewski, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at Team San Jose/Visit San Jose
  • Kara Franker, CEO in Estes Park, Colorado
  • Nerissa Okiye, director of tourism for Martin County
  • Darien Schaefer, president and CEO of Visit Pensacola
  • Jim Werner, a self-employed strategic consultant, who lives half of the year in Key West, and the rest Philadelphia and Key West and formerly the chief tourism officer for Philadelphia. 

Interviews with the committee are scheduled to start at 12 p.m. July 10 over a public meeting on Zoom, and the panel plans to take a final vote July 11, at the Marathon Government Center. 

a group of people sitting at a table with laptops
This screenshot from Zoom shows the selection committee meeting on June 28, 2024, at the Marathon Government Center. They chose six finalists for the new president/CEO of the Tourist Development Council.

But the application window for the TDC president/CEO, with a $210,000 to $250,000 salary range, remains open until July 10. 

The job search comes three months after the TDC board unanimously fired veteran Keys marketing leader Stacey Mitchell, after a series of audits from the county clerk ripped the agency, which is funded with lodging and hotel taxes, for failing to maintain financial protocols. 

“We want to make sure we have the best possible person. We’re much more interested in finding the right candidate than meeting a deadline,” said committee member Jodi Weinhofer, president of The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys & Key West, during the June 28 meeting in Marathon.

Ted Yates, the former Islamorada Village Administrator, was among the original 24 applicants but the recruiting firm hired by the county didn’t put him on the short list for the committee’s review. 

A Keys applicant the committee did consider for a finalist spot is Alan Beaubien, of Key West, director of sales and marketing for Key West Marriott Beachside.

Beaubien, a 36-year resident of Key West – including 16 years at Beachside, which he helped open – oversees a $7 million budget. 

The discussion over his job experience showed the committee’s goal of hiring someone who is already a CEO with destination tourism marketing experience. Even strong candidates like Beaubien, they said, weren’t the right fit. 

“I like Alan,” Gastesi said. 

“I like Alan, too, but my comment would be he doesn’t have CEO experience,” said Weinhofer, adding that she also liked Beaubien.”

“Let’s be honest, he’s already retired once,” said Weinhofer, “Do you want someone who’s only been here for a couple of years?”

The stack of applications disappointed committee member Roman Gastesi, the longtime county administrator who is on pause before returning to the job full-time. 

“There’s no public sector people here,” Gastesi told the recruitment firm representatives. 

“There was a consensus about having tourism industry experience,” replied Kellie Henderson, of SearchWide Global, the recruitment firm the county hired to handle the search.

Henderson said the firm is keeping track of all applicants and if someone applies that’s qualified and looks like a good fit for the role, “We’ll absolutely inform the committee.”

The committee wants DMO, destination marketing organization experience. Many applicants impressed the recruiters, but the committee tossed them without going further once they saw they hadn’t run a DMO. 

Teri Johnston, the outgoing mayor of Key West, made the short list of applicants for the newly devised Monroe County Tourist Development Council president/CEO position.

The contractor, business owner and former city commissioner said she has the skills and experience.

“I don’t know who else could do it better than me,” Johnston told Keys Weekly on June 28, before the county-appointed selection committee narrowed the field to finalists. “I have my finger on the pulse of the citizens of Key West. I have the skill set.”

But the committee passed on Johnston’s application, without discussion, citing her lack of DMO experience. 

Johnston noted she has been managing businesses for 45 years, including at her current contractor business in Key West and earlier in her career she worked in marketing, which included traveling internationally.

In addition to a list of responsibilities, the 8-page job description, put together by the SearchWide Global recruiting firm, lists a number of personal characteristics wanted in a candidate.

The committee members were candid. 

“Experience is obviously important, but we had probably the most DMO-experienced director that just got fired, right?” Gastesi said. “Let’s face it. Stacy has been around a long time, and she was a DMO experienced person, but the skill set that she didn’t have is with a skill set that we need.”

The TDC needs at least a CEO and a chief financial officer, which the agency has never had before, Gastesi has said. 

“Let’s not make the same mistake again,” Gastesi said, as other members agreed.

“We promoted somebody who was your marketing director right to a position of CEO, which could work,” Weinhofer said. “We took something that was 11 or $15 million, grew it to 60, and didn’t increase the staff, and didn’t give them what they needed to make it work.”

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.