Walton commissioners tap Bagby to head TDC

Tom McLaughlin | Northwest Florida Daily News

The Walton County Commission scoured the country to find a new Tourist Development Council director.

Turns out the guy they wanted was right here all along.

Jim Bagby, the town manager of Rosemary Beach and a Destin city councilman, finished first among eight finalists, and commissioners promptly voted Tuesday to begin negotiating with him to take over the post Dawn Moliterno left April 9.

Bagby said he hopes to bring “some calmness and stability” to a position that has grown increasingly controversial in Northwest Florida in the last year.

“There’s been a lot of stress lately. The organization as a whole has been under a lot of stress,” he said. “We need to return to a place where we can continue the success this organization has enjoyed the last several years and maybe improve upon it.”

Bagby, who attended Tuesday’s commission meeting, said he is confident a deal to seal his hiring will be reached.

“I have no doubt that we will reach an agreement because we want each other,” he said.

If the county and Bagby cannot reach an agreement, officials will talk to the other top-ranked candidates. Robert Warren, chief executive officer of the Evansville, Ind., Convention and Visitors Bureau, finished second and Mary Chris Murry of Atlanta was third.

In polling conducted before interviews were held, Bagby was the fifth of 10 favorites. Warren was the third- ranked candidate on the list. At least one of the top two early finalists chose not to travel to Walton County for an interview when commissioners decided not to fund the trip.

Moliterno stepped down soon after new commissioner Cindy Meadows was sworn in to office and initiated heavy public scrutiny of Moliterno and the agency.

Tourist Development Councils, particularly those in Northwest Florida, came under scrutiny when Mark Bellinger, head of Okaloosa County’s TDC, committed suicide last year as investigators began to uncover thefts he’d committed by diverting money to himself from bed taxes charged to visitors and funds the county obtained from BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.