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Jackson TDA laying groundwork for hiring director

The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority is pursuing a leader, someone to act as the organization’s executive director. The workload is becoming more than volunteer board members can handle.

“Some of us feel, and I feel, it’s going to be a full-time job,” Robert Jumper, head of Jackson’s TDA, said earlier this month.

The TDA oversees the occupancy taxes — around $600,000 annually stemming from the room tax on overnight lodging — collected in Jackson County. The organization is charged with marketing the county to potential tourists.

The tourism authority has discussed hiring an executive director in the past, but thus far day-to-day logistical duties have been distributed among board members and employees of the Jackson and Cashiers chambers of commerce. But now, it appears the board is ready to get some help.

“There’s just so much involved,” Jumper said.

Currently, the Jackson board is consulting with tourism authorities in nearby counties to get a feel for how others are set up. The group is also drafting a job description for its eventual director. 

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The TDA must also decide if it prefers to hire a full-time staff member or a contract employee. Both options are currently on the table. 

Also being debated is to whom an eventual director will answer — the TDA or Jackson County?

In September, Jumper and fellow TDA board member Clifford Meads met with Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten about the matter.

“His comment was if the person was hired under the county then they felt like they should have some administrative authority over that person,” Jumper said.

“Currently, Jackson County holds all the TDA funds in our accounts and is responsible for accounting for the funds,” Wooten explained in an email. “I told Robert and Clifford that I thought the position should report to the Commissioners and ultimately to the County Manager, who has been delegated the authority for managing the personnel policy.  I do not believe it is in the best interest of the county to have employees that do not report to the Commissioners.”

Jumper said that some TDA board members had reservations about such an arrangement. They felt the director should answer to the board.

“I kind of tend to agree,” Jumper said. “It would be a very difficult spot for an executive director to be in, having to answer to the board and the county.”

Earlier this month, Jumper made a presentation to the Jackson commissioners concerning the current state of TDA affairs. He reported on the groups marketing efforts, on the number of Facebook friends the TDA was getting and how bed tax revenue was on the rise.

Jumper made no mention of the executive director search.

“We really appreciate the hard work you guys put in,” Commissioner Doug Cody told Jumper, praising the TDA. “I know this was a controversial thing at one time, but I think it’s been proven to be beneficial to the county.”

Though Jumper didn’t mention the executive director conversation happening in the background, Wooten did. 

“It’s been reported that I’ve dug my heels in or whatever, but I don’t have a position on whether they have a position or not,” the county manager told commissioners, adding that if the TDA were to hire a director then that person should be answerable to the county.

In his email, Wooten had noted that the personnel issue would eventually need to be resolved. And the commissioners would have a big say in such a discussion, due to the way the TDA is set up.

“ … since the founding resolution requires the Commissioners approval before TDA funds are spent on personnel,” Wooten explained.

The issue of bringing on an executive director will next be discussed during a meeting of the TDA’s executive committee. That group will be presented with a proposed scope of work and job description as soon as such has been drafted.

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