Skift Take

It should still concern Floridians that Visit Florida has spent public money on performers like Pitbull, under the presupposition that such performances somehow contribute directly to increasing visitation to Florida. Meanwhile, the exact amount Visit Florida spends on its lavish events is still confidential.

An audit of Visit Florida conducted by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity found that the organization has done an adequate job of accounting for its spending on trips and events promoting the state of Florida as a global tourist destination.

Florida governor Rick Scott called for an audit of Visit Florida and Space Florida in early April. The investigation stemmed from Visit Florida’s relationship with a pop star, according to its board of directors.

“It came out of an inquiry with a reporter relative to Pitbull,” said chairman John Tomlin on a May 3 board conference call. “[Visit Florida president and CEO] Will [Seccombe] and I have been talking about how to have good oversight on contractual issues… We want to find a way to address the issue without revealing confidential agreements.”

The new audit, which was put together in addition to the organization’s normal annual audit, suggests that the organization should do a better job determining which contracts should be available to the public.

“Overall, our review of Visit Florida found an extremely sound operation with a robust accounting system and mature internal control structure,” concludes the report. “There are no material findings related to the samples we tested in the expenditure, procurement, or internal control categories. “…  Our review of several high profile contracts (e.g. Pit Bull, Fulham Football Club, and foreign journalists Familiarization (FAM) Tours) revealed no contract compliance/procurement issues or any concerns related to the benefits of expending public funds on these projects…. However, we recommend Visit Florida develop a standardized process to identify which records/documents are available for review or external public record requests and which records/documents are to be held confidential.”

The audit, however, does suggest better accountability for Visit Florida executives on personal expenditures. It also calls for executive travel expenses to be capped at state standards, and that the amount of public funds that can be put towards executive compensation should be limited.

Maybe the most concerning portion of the audit is the fact that Visit Florida has used the same external audit firm for more than 15 years.

“While it is not uncommon for private entities to change partners and audit teams in the same accounting firm instead of having a new firm conduct the external audit function, recipients of public funds are generally encouraged to use a different external audit firm on a set time period of three to five years,” concludes the report. “DEO recommends Visit Florida consider changing their external audit firm during the next contract cycle.”

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Tags: visit florida

Photo credit: Pitbull speaks on stage at the 42nd annual American Music Awards in Los Angeles. 157759 / 157759

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