Visit Florida chief ousted over rapper contract controversy

Visit Florida president and chief executive Will Seccombe has been ousted amid controversy over a secret $1 million contract for Miami rapper Pitbull to promote the state.

The Visit Florida board on Tuesday voted 26-0 to accept a settlement agreement that included a $73,000 payment, ending Seccombe’s employment with the public-private agency.

He has been replaced by state department of business and professional regulation secretary Ken Lawson after Florida governor Rick Scott intervened.

Seccombe, who has been at the helm of Visit Florida since November 2012, was paid $293,000 a year, including $120,000 a year from state funding for his contract.

The board appointed Lawson at an annual salary of $175,000 to lead the body, which must lobby state lawmakers in the coming months to maintain its public funding.

Resistance to funding Visit Florida has grown since details of the expired $1 million contract with hip-hop artist Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull, were unveiled last month.

The deal was part of a marketing campaign that featured a new video of his song “Sexy Beaches” that featured Florida locations and promotion of the state via social media and at concerts.

Questions have also been raised over ongoing sponsorship deals between Visit Florida and London-based Fulham Football Club for $1.25 million and an IMSA racing team for $2.9 million, the News Service of Florida reported.

Lawson, who takes over at Visit Florida today, said his initial focus will be meeting recommendations by Scott to make the organisation more transparent.

“Since I’ve been the secretary [of the department of business and professional regulation] the last six years, I’ve had to manage a budget of $155 million and account for every dollar because it comes from the public, so therefore I’m going to do the same for Visit Florida,” he  Lawson.

“Also I’m going to make sure the Legislature understands the value of Visit Florida, and that we understand their role in overseeing us, so there are no questions in the future.”

Visit Florida board chairman William Talbert said Seccombe agreed to waive provisions in his contract that allowed a severance worth up to 18 months of his salary if fired “without cause.”

Board member Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line said it appeared recent changes at the agency were “still being shrouded in a kind of lack of transparency as to why this is happening”.

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