Bay County TDC Reviews Accounting Practices

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Some may wonder if Bay County's Tourist Development council is susceptible to the same kind of misappropriation of funds now under investigation in Okaloosa County.

Local TDC officials spent quite a bit of time Tuesday morning assuring board members they are clean. The Bay County TDC members were briefed about checks and balances they say prevents misuse of TDC funds.

7 Gulf counties split up 30 million dollars in BP money last year that was designated to keep tourists coming to the gulf .

Accusations that Okaloosa County TDC director Mark Bellinger used some of that money to buy a house, has other TDC's looking at their own accounting practices.

TDC chairman Gary Walsingham said, "We just want to make sure we have all the bases covered over here. Just to make sure we don't have any problems like they had."

Tuesday TDC director, Dan Rowe, explained the organization's system of checks and balances. The TDC books are audited by an outside accounting firm, as well as the Bay County Clerks' office. And Rowe says the board approves every project before the TDC spends money.

"We got through alot of rigorous steps to make sure that it's very transparent how we operate," Rowe said.

Rowe says the 7 million dollars Bay County received from BP resulted in the best tourism year in the county's history. "We were up 20 percent from the previous year, and it was the best year that Panama City Beach had had."

The money paid for a large concert series last fall, and several smaller events. Some were successful, others weren't.

TDC member, and Bay County commissioner Mike Thomas said, "...because some of those things may have been rushed and some of that process didn't get the affect that we would have gotten given the time to do it. But everything was done properly."

Even with a plan in place, TDC members believe it's just smart business to keep a close eye the money.

"I don't think it can happen here, I don't know, but I think we've done everything we can do to make sure it can't happen here," added Walsingham.

Council members offered condolences to the Bellinger family and Okaloosa County officials in light of Bellinger's suicide last Friday.

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