City votes to fly solo on drafting economic development plan


After talks of potential Sunshine Law violations surfaced at city hall recently, city leaders have agreed to handle the creation of Destin's economic development plan on its own.

"The city has got to lead the economic development process," Councilman Jim Bagby said. "This is a vital process to the city of Destin."

Over the past few months, city leaders have been in discussions with the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County to create a committee or "working group" that would have been tasked with creating a draft of the city's economic development plan. The chamber-led group would ultimately bring the draft plan in front of city leaders for their approval.

During Monday night's City Council meeting, Bagby made a motion to remove the portions of the draft economic development component of the land development code that pertained to the formation of the chamber-led group. The motion was approved 6-0, with Councilman Larry Williges not in attendance.

Earlier this month, the First Amendment Foundation sent a letter to Mayor Sam Seevers, notifying her that if the city had moved forward with its proposed plan, it could be in potential violation of the Sunshine Law for open meetings.

According to the letter from President Barbara Petersen, advisory boards and committees like a proposed city economic working group, fall under the purview of the Sunshine Law if they are “created by a public agency for the purpose of making recommendations to the public agency.”

Petersen said the chamber-led group would fit the bill, since they were working "on behalf" of the city of Destin.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shane Moody said in an email to The Log that his organization never planned to have a "working group" that reported to the city. The plan "was and is to" form a board committee, which would include members of the chamber and area business leaders, to look at economic development in Destin and make recommendations to the city to improve and diversify the economy.

Moody wrote that Destin has never really "been on the map" for new non-retail or non-restaurant businesses. He added that by diversifying the economy in Destin, it would also strengthen the economy and the community.

"So as we move forward and identify what we think are the right targeted industries and direction for Destin, we will make those recommendations," he wrote. "It's the same way we manage and address other community issues. It will all flow through our board and we will make our position known."

Chambers exist, Moody said, to promote economic sustainability and community excellence.

"Chambers all across Florida and the country work with their elected officials to accomplish this," he said. "We are no different."

While Bagby said there is nothing personal about his desire to remove the chamber from the lead spot, he said the city should be responsible for creating its own plan.

"We want to work together. We've made that clear, but it's not going to be a working group that the chamber runs," he said. "The city owns the economic development policy of the city and we are going to control this process."