The Tourist Development Council last week chose to recommend St. George Island businessman Walter Armistead to fill a vacant seat, after a vote for Apalachicola innkeeper Lynn Spohrer ended in a tie.
On Nov. 6, after much debate and a crucial ruling on parliamentary procedure, the TDC board voted 6-2 to recommend to the county commission that Armistead fill the seat vacated by St. George Island businesswoman Alice Collins, owner of Collins Vacation Rentals.
Bev Hewitt who represents the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce and Frank Cook representing the City of Apalachicola opposed the choice of Armistead.
The vote occurred at the regular meeting of the TDC took place three weeks after a special meeting called to discuss the replacement was held Oct. 16. TDC Chairman Pinki Jackel, Diana Prickett, rental manager for Resort Vacation Rentals on St. George Island, and Collins did not attend that meeting, which had a quorum of the voting members of the board.
Because Jackel was not in attendance, several TDC board members refused to vote on filling the seat.
In October, three candidates vied for the position, Lynn Wilson Spohrer, who owns the Coombs House Inn in Apalachicola and a rental houses in Eastpoint and on St. George Island; Walter Armistead, owner of the Buccaneer Inn on St. George Island and Suncoast Vacation Rentals; and Segul Patel, general manager of the Best Western Inn in Apalachicola.
Spohrer was the only candidate to attend the Oct. 16 meeting. Spohrer, president of a newly registered corporation called the “Guest Lodging Association of Franklin County,” made a presentation about the group and asked the TDC board to dedicate a seat to a representative of a hotel, motel, inn or bed and breakfast. The association is largely composed of Apalachicola lodging providers.
On Oct. 16, Hewitt moved that the TDC recognize the new lodging association but the motion died for lack of a second.
At the beginning of the Nov. 6 meeting, Jackel said Patel had withdrawn her application. She asked Armistead and Spohrer to make “very brief remarks.”
‘Critical to have an eye on marketing’
Spohrer spoke first. She said the county and TDC were at a starting point and needed to work on sustainable economic programs.
”I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the value of the TDC going into its ninth year now. The seafood industry has potential problems that we need to work very hard on,” said Spohrer. “Tourism dollars will help subsidize the solution to those problems.”
She said tourism is strong here for only six months out of the year, and the other six months “lean, mean times.
“We have very little new revenue coming into the county unless we treat these months very carefully,” she said. “It is critical to have an eye on marketing that goes beyond local understanding.”
She suggested some of the money budgeted for television ads go to Panama City and Tallahassee.
Spohrer then commented that there are few street signs directing visitors to Franklin County near major airports in Pensacola, Tallahassee and Panama City. She suggested a billboard at each location.
“It’s time to start looking beyond what we’ve been doing,” she said. “I’m very, very careful and cautious about the way money is being spent. You should take advantage of what I have to offer.”
She listed awards received by the Coombs House and offered board members copies of her resume and letters of support from downtown merchants. Jackel said the resume and letters were in the email package distributed before the meeting.
Spohrer said that, small lodging providers had never been represented on the TDC board. “We think it’s only fair since we work so hard and bring in 20 percent of the lodging, we would like to have a voice,” she said.
After Spohrer returned to her seat, Armistead rose and went to the podium.
Before he spoke, Jackel thanked everyone who had applied for the board position and praised the TDC board members for taking time to attend meeting and serve on the TDC board.
“We know none of you receive payment for your services. This is a volunteer job. Some day, if you read the newspaper and you talk to people on the street, it’s a thankless job,” Jackel said.
‘I have no animosity against anyone’
Armistead said his family built the seventh house on St. George Island in 1959.
“As far as I know, I am the oldest property management person continuing in the business except for Alice Collins,” he said.
He said his family built the Buccaneer Inn in 1979 and that he maintains a rental office for his property management firm in Apalachicola although he has no rental units in the city. Armistead said he has watched the development of the tourist industry here over many years.
“I am a fiscal conservative,” he said. “This tourist development council is funded by tax dollars and I take that very seriously because those are the people who come here and pay our rent and I expect them to get their money’s worth. I have not been enthusiastic about any increases in it, but I keep an open mind.
“I don’t believe there’s anybody that I can’t work with and get along with. I know that there has probably been a little bit of animosity about Apalachicola not being on the board. I understand that. I’m not here to oppose that,” he said.
“I would like to offer my expertise. I think I can help. My vote will not be for St. George Island. It’s going to have to be for Franklin County. I have no animosity against anyone,” Armistead said.
Chester Reese, who represents the Carrabelle Chamber of Commerce, asked, “Do you believe this board has not been open to bed and breakfasts and small hotels?”
Armistead answered, “We own the only beachfront hotel on St. George Island. Sometimes that’s the way the dice rolls. I think, sometime, there will be somebody from Apalachicola on the board, maybe now. Not everybody can be on the board.
“I don’t think it’s been unfair. Maybe untimely. That’s just the way it works out sometimes,” he said.
“I have an office in Apalachicola. I know the uniqueness between the island and Apalachicola. We can’t get along without each other,” Armistead said. “I don’t like the idea of us being divided. If that’s the way it’s going to be, don’t vote me in.”
After Armistead completed his presentation, Hewitt moved Spohrer be seated on the TDC board and was seconded by Cook.
“It’s been a rather contentious time. I would like to see an end of contention,” said Reese, prior to the vote. “There’s been a lot said. Some of it has not been as friendly as it should be. Lynn (Spohrer) has a great amount of expertise. I’ve asked a couple of questions to her and she’s answered them in her own way.
“I’m fiercely for this council and sometimes that fierceness comes out in a strong way,” he said. “Me being a loose cannon on this one, I thought I was the most humorous one, not the rudest.”
The vote was a 4-4 tie, with Jackel, Reese, Eastpoint businessman Rex Pennycuff and Prickett opposed. Jackel rose and left the room with TDC Executive Director Curt Blair. After a short time, they returned.
Jackel said the TDC board had never adopted a parliamentary procedure. “Falling back, therefore on what Robert’s Rules are, for a motion that is made, and a motion that ends in a tie. The motion is considered failed for lack of a majority,” said Jackel.
Reese then moved to seat Armistead and was seconded by Prickett.
Prior to the vote, Hewitt said Apalachicola was not properly represented on the board.
“I would like to see somebody from Apalachicola. They’ve never had representation on this board. Frank sits for the city. I sit for the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce incorporated from Eastpoint, the island and Apalachicola. We’ve never had anybody sit on this board that was representative of the small inns and hotel industry of Apalachicola,” she said.
The motion to seat Armistead passed 6-2 with Hewitt and Cook opposed.
‘We need something that represents our whole county’
After the vote, there was further discussion.
Jackel said the structure of the TDC did not allow for a “geographic description” of board members.
“This seat is set aside for the collector of tax. When you serve on a countywide board, you have to be willing to represent every interest. Whenever a seat on this board is open, whether it is at large or a collector of tax, it is open to everyone,” she said.
“Throughout the years of the rotating seats, it has been open to the county for application. I don’t think it is entirely fair to say a portion of the county has not received representation. We are all Franklin County pulling together and we cannot always be defending our geographic boundaries,” Jackel said. “We don’t play that way. We are one county. I know there are some that are going to be unhappy about what happens today no matter what it is.”
Prickett said she initially served on the board as a representative of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce and that, at times, she had to vote counter to her own interest as a lodging provider.
“When it became available for me to take a position as a lodging provider, I did because my business is important to me as well as the chamber. I didn’t want to be in the middle of having to make decisions for the chamber that weren’t necessarily good for my business but I have never been on this board and said ‘I’m looking out for St. George Island and nobody else.’
“I personally don’t think we need a Carrabelle chamber and an Apalachicola chamber. That is the only reason I like the Eastpoint chamber because I want it to be Franklin County,” Prickett said.
“Are you talking about the visitor center?” Hewitt asked.
“It’s the same thing,” said Prickett. “We need something that represents our whole county. If we bring people here, they’re going to find my business. Either we need to be a team or we don’t need to be sitting here,”
Spohrer went to the podium and said, “Since you don’t follow Robert’s Rules I’d like to make a comment.”
Jackel replied that “I’m the chairman and I get to run the meeting. I will have public comment at the end of the meeting. I’ve always asked for public comment.”
During public comment, Spohrer said that “I never expected to be elected. I have been asked to take on this difficult position by many, many taxpaying, hardworking businesses who felt that there was a need for a missing representation. The only part I feel is extremely unfortunate is that it became a discussion about Franklin County.
“I think I have something I can share with you all. My two small ideas were very Franklin County oriented. I never once mentioned Apalachicola,” she said. “My conversation was about the seafood industry and about the problem that’s coming up. What blesses one, blesses all.”
Last to speak from the podium was Mike Koun, owner of the Gibson Inn. “I’ve known Walter for 30 years I think he’ll do a good job,” he said.
“I’ve been in Apalachicola for 30 years. We started when things weren’t good here. We have something different to offer than St. George Island. We are more similar to Carrabelle. Apalachicola is the historic side of this county and we just wanted to get that out,” Koun said.