Search firm will help Okaloosa County find a replacement for Darrel Jones.

SHALIMAR — Darrel Jones, who has served as the interim director of the Okaloosa County Tourism Development Department since last August, plans to retire June 4.

County Administrator John Hofstad announced the news at Tuesday's County Commission meeting and suggested using an executive search firm to find a new director.

This will mark Jones' second retirement from the position. He served as TDD director for 20 years (1990-2010) and agreed to serve as interim director last August. After Tuesday’s meeting, he said he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and sons, traveling and playing golf.

Jones took over last summer for former TDD Director Ed Schroeder, who retired after having worked for the county since 2013. The TDD also had two other directors, Dan O’Byrne and Mark Bellinger, at the helm before Jones returned as interim director. O’Byrne lasted a little more than a year on the job. Bellinger committed suicide in May 2012 after being outed for stealing millions of dollars from county coffers.

Jones “did a great job for us in the interim to fill that (director) void,” Hofstad said after the meeting. “He has a wealth of tourism industry knowledge and we’ve been fortunate to keep him around for as long as we did.”

Since late last year the county has received more than 80 applications for the director's job, but its application review committee hasn’t recommended any top candidates.

To help improve the selection process, Hofstad and some commissioners said Tuesday that the criteria used to evaluate the candidates may need to be changed. For example, some applicants who otherwise were deemed worthy candidates have had their overall scores lowered because of their unfamiliarity with beach-side issues such as sea turtle nesting seasons.

Hofstad suggested that an executive search firm could help find the right candidate while making the job expectations clear to all applicants. The long “tentacles” of such firms can reach parts of the tourism industry that the county cannot, he said.

Commissioners agreed.

“With all that’s involved in this selection and the amount of candidates that have applied, I think the headhunter scenario makes sense,” Commissioner Kelly Windes said. “I think it might be a little quicker” than solely using the application review committee.

Based on past executive searches, the cost of using a search firm might be about $20,000, which would be paid for with TDD money, Hofstad said. He said he and the ounty staff would obtain price quotes from various firms and bring them back to the commission for consideration as soon as possible.

Jones said one of the most enjoyable aspects of his interim role has been “getting the (TDD) staff’s morale back up since the Bellinger situation.”

Another rewarding part of the job, he said, has been working with other county officials to amend some of the county’s strict regulations that were placed on the TDD after the Bellinger scandal.

Jones’ annual salary is $110,011. The salary range for the new director is $81,411 to $146,848.