It’s not what it looks like.
“In less than 30 days, I had four people sitting in my office telling me Doug, it’s time for me to move on,” Doug Baxter said this afternoon. That morning, he was before the Flagler County Tourist Development Council, hearing council members lament the loss of two of those staffers, whose salaries are paid by the county’s 4 percent bed tax. The loss of the other two staffers was not talked about, since it wasn’t relevant to TDC business.
But in four weeks, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce lost more than a quarter of its staff of 14.
Peggy Heiser, the chamber’s vice president for tourism development—and the TDC’s executive—announced her resignation almost four weeks ago, citing family priorities. Today, the TDC learned that Heiser’s No. 2, Laura Gamba, was also resigning. She’ll be gone after Thanksgiving. In non-TDC related posts, Laurent Walsh, the chamber’s comptroller, has also resigned. And Nick Langille, in charge of membership services, is also leaving.
Baxter anticipated the inevitable reaction: It must have something to do with him. “It’s got nothing to do with me, but perception becomes reality out there in the marketplace,” Baxter said.
Langille is leaving because he’s moving to North Carolina, where his companion, out of work for three years, has found a job. Same story with Walsh: she and her boyfriend closed on a house in Melbourne just yesterday.
“Laura,” Baxter said, “is going to Daytona, to a time-share, she’s going to be the marketing manager there, she’s going to also market leisure for the resort she’s going to market for. It’s a step up for her. She’s going to be paid more. She doesn’t want me to talk about this but she’s going to be getting married before too long and her and her husband have talked at length about this—or her husband to be—and I don’t ever wish that someone is not going to move up the ladder over time.”
Gamba’s job with the chamber and the TDC required her to travel a lot (she was just back from Montreal). She was looking to travel less.
“I’m not real happy losing any of my staff,” Baxter said, but the resumes have come in—even though not in the quantity or with the quality Baxter was looking for—and second interviews have either taken place or are scheduled for candidates for the comptroller job. Christina Gardner, an information specialist at the chamber, is moving up to the membership job. Heiser’s position was filled earlier this month by Georgia Turner, formerly of the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Turner, not Baxter, will hire Gamba’s replacement.
For the TDC, Gamba’s resignation revived talk of salaries and the reasons behind the resignations. In August, Heiser had asked for a 7.7 percent raise for herself and 6 percent raises for Gamba and another staffer. The TDC recommended that the raises be granted, but the county commission, which ratifies (or amends or rejects) all TDC decisions, rejected the proposal, leaving Heiser’s salary at $65,000 and Gamba’s at $35,000.
“Is this an indication that we have some issues with compensation?” Andy Bl;air, one of the TDC’s members, asked this morning—and answered: “I think it’s something the board needs to discuss and make sure we are where we need to be, to have retention and continuance with these positions. But it raises a big flag at this point that there might be an issue here.”
Baxter stepped in: “I’m the one that recommended that Peggy bring forth the pay increases based on what she does and what the market bears out there. But let me assure you: with Laura and Peggy leaving, it had nothing to do with pay. Just so you know. I’ve sat down with both of them and talked to that specifically. At some point, based on what we’re doing here in Flagler County this will come up at some point. Hopefully you will take a look at it and move forward with it there. This has nothing to do with pay.”
Milissa Holland, who chairs the TDC,. Supported the pay raises and was Heiser’s closest ally, said: “I’ve talked to Peggy regularly since she’s left. To know Peggy and understand where her priorities are in life and to understand how important her family is, it really was a decision based on her family. As much as she misses all of us, and she does—I know we’ve gone through a little separation anxiety she and I because we worked together so closely—you can hear it in her voice, she’s very happy, her husband is thriving in his business.”
Pam Walker, another member of the council, had also talked to Heiser at length. “I think working as hard as they have and increasing our bed taxes as they have for them, it’s human nature for them to come and ask for an increase and then not get it. I think as much as we want to say that didn’t influence in the back of anyone’s head, I think that would influence a little bit. And I would hope that if this council votes outright to approve a budget the next time around, that pieces of it are not taken out and diverted, because I think if indeed these people are not commensurated at the rate of other people in their field are, it’s going to influence us and it’s going to have a negative impact on this county in the end if we don’t keep up the pace with other people in the industry.”
Yet even as several members of the council warned of losing good talent with its current pay structure, and suggesting that some form of bonuses should be offered up in the future, if not outright pay increases, it was congratulating the chamber—and itself—for Turner’s hire. Turner is coming in at the same salary. Turner, Baxter reminded the council, “is excited that we’re a stable county with regard to tourism where if you look in Volusia County for example, it’s not, it’s up and down like a yo-yo. So we’re moving in the right direction here.”
Bob DeVore, the only member of the council who’d voted against recommending raises, said he’d done so because large increases had been approved in previous years, and he couldn’t justify additional ones this year. “The county commission for once made the right choice,” DeVore said, unleashing one of his frequent backhands at the commission.
“I’m glad it was for once. Thank you for the compliment,” Holland said with an acid laugh.