The Coahoma County Tourism Commission has a full board and is expected to have a full-time executive director no later than its next meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12.
Thirteen candidates applied for the executive director position in a search that began after Kappi Allen, who is being investigated for misappropriated funds by state auditor Penn Mills, resigned in February. Six of the 13 candidates were extended opportunities to interview for the position. Five of the candidates took advantage of the opportunity and went through the interview process.
“It is my belief, based on our last meeting and the interviews of last week, we’ll be able to this week make an offer to someone,” said board member Roger Stolle, who has overseen the process. “Depending on if they accept or we need to talk about other interviewees, then certainly by the meeting of next week, I think we’ll be able to announce someone.”
Stolle said, if a candidate accepts the offer, an announcement could be made the following day.
Just four board members went through the entire interview process as one slot was vacant after Chris Overton’s resignation earlier this year.
The Coahoma County Board of Supervisors, after a recommendation from District 2 supervisor Pat Davis, unanimously appointed Madge Howell to the board on Monday, Dec. 3.
Howell and her husband, Billy, run the Delta Bohemian, which is an online blog about life locally. She is originally from Clarksdale, moved back in 1994, managed the former Madidi restaurant in downtown Clarksdale until 2010 and has focused on the Delta Bohemian ever since.
She and her husband also have the Clarksdale White House, where they run the Delta Bohemian Tours business, and the Delta Bohemian guest house.
“I just figure she’s got her finger on the pulse of the tourism and tourists,” Davis said after Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “That’s who they deal with. I’ve been here a long time. I’ve seen her in action when Madidi’s was open. She was really good with people. I think they bring a lot of knowledge to the table. I think she’ll put a lot into it. She’s real passionate about it.”
Davis stressed the importance of having a full board to make a decision for the next executive director.
“We didn’t want them to leave them hanging – the rest of the board members,” he said. “We wanted to make sure they had enough people to make a decision.”
Tourism board chair Al Jones acknowledged the timing of the appointment kept Howell from being involved in the selection process, but her input is welcome and she does get a vote.
“Once they’re seated, they’re a bonafide board member,” Jones said.
Howell said she planned to be in on all executive session discussions to hire a new leader for the tourism office and her responsibilities do not stop there.
“I don’t take an appointment like this lightly so I took some time thinking about it,” she said. “I was pleased that Pat extended the offer to me. The main reason I’m taking it is I care about our tourists. I care about them when they get here and what happens to them when they’re here. That’s important to me. I’m also eager to help guide, along with the board, the new executive director in creative ways we can reach and market potential future visitors.
“I think that it’s important, whether it’s locally done or whether it’s done by travel to various festival and events and other places, it is vitally important that we connect with our tourists and potential tourists in a real and personal way. In other words, placing ads in magazines is not enough. We want to engage with people when they get here, but we also want to engage with potential visitors in other places to get them to come here.”
Howell said one of the most important parts of tourism is meeting the visitors’ needs and it is important for the tourism office to have a mission statement.
“I’m very excited to hear that Madge has been appointed to the board,” Stolle said. “Both she and her husband, Billy, have been working in their own ways to really promote tourism and promote our town through social media, websites, home concerts, publications, overnight accommodations, etc.”
As the board moves forward into the final stretch, Stolle said there is a great pool of candidates to choose from – some who are local, others from Mississippi and some from out of state.
“I would say, across the board, these were passionate people, who one way or another, have been dealing with tourism in their past lives,” he said. “Some truly professionally and some more on the side, but they all had really great toolsets. They all presented very well in the interviews.”
The next executive director should not have to deal with issues regarding Mills’ investigation of Allen.
“To my knowledge, there is really nothing directly related to that investigation the tourism director would have to be involved with,” Stolle said. “They have all the information they need. They’re just continuing to finish up the investigation.”