Walton administrator appoints interim head of TDC as spring break season starts
SANTA ROSA BEACH — Brian Kellenberger, director of beach operations for the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC), has been appointed interim director of the organization by interim Deputy County Administrator Tony Cornman, according to an email obtained by the Daily News.
The move comes as the county starts its spring break season, and is battening down in preparation for the arrival of high school students from across the Southeast.
Those students have become a problematic issue in recent years, particularly along the beachside County Road 30A, where the noise, underage drinking and other misbehavior has increasingly irked residents of the area.
Additionally, Kellenberger's appointment comes just days after Jason Cutshaw, director of administration for the TDC, announced his departure to pursue another employment opportunity. Cutshaw's last day on the job in Walton County is March 11.
Prior to Cutshaw's resignation, he and Kellenberger had shared duties at the head of the TDC, with Kellenberger in his existing position as director of beach operations and Cuthsaw serving as director of administration.
As director of beach operations, Kellenberger's duties have included overseeing the maintenance of regional and neighborhood beach accesses and the development of new beach-related infrastructure, including parking areas and public transit initiatives.
Funded with millions of dollars in annual revenue from a 5% "bed tax" charged to visitors staying in accommodations in the south end, the TDC is responsible for marketing the county to potential and returning visitors, for improving beach-related infrastructure and for funding a lifeguard program.
Cutshaw and Kellenberger were placed at the head of the TDC following the May 2021 ouster of former TDC Executive Director Jay Tusa, who was fired in a surprise 3-2 vote of the County Commission, to whom Tusa had reported.
Commissioners Danny Glidewell, William "Boots" McCormick and Mike Barker supported the termination of Tusa's contract. Commissioners Tony Anderson and Trey Nick were opposed.
Reasons for the termination of Tusa's contract were never particularly clear, although his firing appears to have related to confusion over whether the TDC had to spend 40% of its revenue on marketing the county. TDCs across Florida can spend that much, but only under conditions prescribed in state law, none of which applied to Walton County at the time of Tusa's termination.
In conjunction with Tusa's firing, commissioners put in place the leadership structure that gave Kellenberger and Cutshaw the co-equal top spots in the TDC.
Beyond that, commissioners removed the two TDC leaders from direct commission supervision, as had been the case with Tusa and previous TDC executive directors. Instead they were placed under the direct supervision of the county's administrative structure.
That arrangement was subsequently ratified by the TDC's board of directors, a group of local elected officials and hospitality industry professionals, in a 5-4 vote taken just three months ago at the direction of the County Commission.
Kellenberger placed at the head
In a Monday afternoon email to the county staff, Cornman said the decision to put Kellenberger at the head of the TDC on an interim basis was made in recognition of "the need for continuity of operations within this department."
Kellenberger's appointment came after a review of the TDC's structure and personnel by county administrators, along with discussions with "many of the existing employees of the department," Cornman wrote in the email.
Also according to the email, Kellenberger "will continue to oversee Beach Operations during his interim status, and has delegated certain responsibilities within that division to existing employees during this time."
In comments on Kellenberger's appointment, Glidewell stressed that it is "just an interim" appointment. But he added that Kellenberger is "a much-respected and highly valued part of the Walton County team."
Glidewell, who supported moving the TDC director from commission oversight to county administrative oversight, said that going forward, the county's Human Resources Department will advertise the opening for a permanent TDC director.
From there, a panel of county staff members will interview prospective candidates and make a recommendation to Cornman, or whoever may be the county administrator when candidates are selected, who will make the final decision.
Since the removal of the TDC executive director from direct commission oversight, the only county personnel who now report directly to commissioners are the county administrator, chief financial officer, operations inspector and county attorney.
Anderson, who had opposed both the move to terminate Tusa's contract and the administrative structure subsequently put in place, was reserving comment Tuesday on Kellenberger's appointment as interim TDC director.
Anderson was awaiting a conversation with Cornman on Tuesday afternoon, and said he wouldn't comment until after they talk.