Visit Jacksonville, the organization charged with promoting Jacksonville as a tourist hot spot, is moving into a new era.
It involves a dramatic change of its role that is already underway.
It involves hiring a new CEO to lead the organization in its newly targeted role.
And it involves more public involvement since Visit Jacksonville is operating under the guidelines of Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.
That means some pretty big things:
• Meetings must be announced to the public, held in places that are convenient to the public and minutes must be taken.
Notices of meetings can be found on the city of Jacksonville’s website: www.coj.net/city-council/events.
• The search for a new CEO needs to be held in the public, though guidance is being sought from the city’s Office of General Counsel.
It was an interesting discussion because so much is likely to change.
All of this change was spotlighted earlier during a meeting of the executive committee of the Visit Jacksonville board.
Board Chairman Bill Prescott outlined recent progress in an email:
A contract will be executed soon for the Tourism Bureau, which will give Visit Jacksonville all three contracts for the Tourism Development Council.
A consultant was retained to manage the process of hiring the new CEO. Four or five vetted candidates should be released around Feb. 4 for the Governance Committee to start the interview process.
The Governance Committee continues to meet and will present in March to the board its recommendation on board structure and bylaws.
The board itself may change in several important ways.
There are about 30 members now with a variety of committees that play more of an operational role.
The role of the new board is likely to change toward more oversight, meaning fewer members. There was discussion regarding the ideal number of members — seven, nine or 11 seem ideal.
The key, however, is making sure there are enough members attending to obtain a quorum. Board members need to give this enough priority that they commit to showing up or they will be rapidly replaced.
These volunteer jobs are important and should not be regarded as simply an honor. If people are too busy to reliably attend these meetings then they should not be on the board.
The new role of Visit Jacksonville has been spelled out in some detail. That means the new CEO may need to be an outstanding administrator first to make sure the goals are met. But there are many other qualities necessary for such a position.
The board is in the process of developing the traits it wants in a new CEO.
Among some of the qualities mentioned:
• Personality plus: This is a marketing position at its crux. Jacksonville has a lot to sell and had difficulties over the years in getting out its message. Jacksonville is a city of water with the ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, the St. Johns River and dozens of tributaries. So why doesn’t the rest of the nation know this?
• Political savvy: This person must be able to navigate the Mayor’s Office, 19 members of City Council, Downtown leaders — the list goes on. Someone with only experience in the business world may drown in this environment.
• Knowledge of Jacksonville: What makes this area great is subtle. Jacksonville is a combination of Southern charm and Florida openness. It can’t be appreciated without knowing both facets. While newcomers may bring a fresh perspective and success elsewhere, someone with intimate knowledge of Jacksonville ought to receive preference.
• Openness with media: Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law needs to be viewed as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. The principle of the Sunshine Law is that the public needs the ability to participate from the beginning of a project, not as a last-minute formality. This is hard for some in the business or the nonprofit sector to accept. In our experience, top administrators like Nat Ford of JTA embrace the opportunity to share their story with the media because they have nothing to hide. That builds confidence.
• Embracing change: Communication is constantly changing. Different age groups relate to different forms of communication. Marketing Jacksonville must keep up with these trends.
• Celebrate our history: The Times-Union Editorial Board has realized how poorly Jacksonville has told its amazing history, especially those involving our nationally known African-American leaders. Other cities are turning America’s civil rights journey into tourist destinations. Jacksonville needs to catch up.