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Wednesday, 25 November 2015 15:35

Jackson tourism board considers Webster mayor for director job

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jacksonIf the selection panel’s pick gets the backing of the full board, Jackson County’s likely to have a new tourism director in place by the time 2016 rolls around.

After narrowing the field of five applicants down to two — Nick Breedlove and Jaki Brendle — the panel conducted a second round of interviews and came out with a clear consensus. The panel was “crystal clear,” said Tourism Development Authority Chairman Robert Jumper, that it would be recommending Breedlove for the position. 

Jumper didn’t want to move forward based on a “knee-jerk reaction,” however, so after the interviews finished Friday, Nov. 20, he waited until the following Monday to poll the panel once more. Their response hadn’t changed.  

“Out of five really good ones, I feel we have the top candidate,” Jumper said. 

The TDA wasn’t planning to vote on its final choice until January, as they’d expected the panel to need more time to mull its recommendation and didn’t have a regular December meeting planned. But the consensus was so clear that Jumper called a special meeting for Dec. 9 so the entire board can meet Breedlove, ask him questions and vote on the hire. 

“I think he brings enthusiasm for the county,” said Jumper. “He has a good network inside and outside the county, which is valuable to us, and I think he’s going to quickly build a strong relationship with the directors and with the agency partners and with the county. We’re hoping for good things out of those relationships.”

Currently wearing multiple hats as mayor of Webster – at 30, Breedlove is the youngest mayor in North Carolina — a reporter for The Sylva Herald and photographer with his own business, Nick Breedlove Photography, Breedlove has deep roots in Jackson County. He grew up there, went to Western Carolina University and has taken an active role in local leadership. 

Breedlove said it’s too early to comment on the panel’s recommendation, as the rest of the board has yet to weigh in, but in his application he expressed enthusiasm for the work.  

“I am truly excited at the opportunity to assist the JCTDA in expanding tourism visitation to the county,” he wrote. 

At the moment, the TDA isn’t hiring a permanent staff position — rather, the board requested bids for a one-year contract with a scope of work mirroring the responsibilities that would be expected of a staff director. 

That’s likely to be a temporary situation. Formed in 2012, the TDA has no paid staff — by contrast, the Haywood County TDA has four employees — and had always planned to bring a director on board. The process moved forward over the past year or so as the TDA’s workload got too big for the volunteer board of directors to handle. The board decided to go with the contract idea, Jumper said, to allow a trial run of sorts in which the responsibilities and lines of authority could be ironed out before the board locked itself into a permanent hire. 

Framing the position as a contract job resulted in a somewhat unanticipated mix of applicants, with some bids coming from companies that would have divvied responsibilities between multiple people. That wasn’t something the panel liked, and those bidders were eliminated. 

“The firms that showed up with three people or four people, or on paper told us this department was going to be handling this, we weren’t content with that,” Clifford Meads, head of the TDA’s marketing committee, said at the board’s November meeting. 

Breedlove, on the other hand, would be carrying out all the director’s responsibilities himself and understands that the TDA sees it as a full-time gig, eventually moving to a permanent position, Jumper said. 

Specifics such as salary haven’t been discussed beyond the bid amount Breedlove put on paper — his $54,000 bid was near the bottom of the range of proposals the TDA received, the lowest of which was Brendle’s $53,000 — but the board likely wouldn’t try to offer less than $54,000 if they selected Breedlove, Jumper said. Contract workers are responsible for a greater share of their taxes than employees and don’t receive benefits, so the compensation should reflect that Jumper said. 

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