Walton County's new Tourist Development Council executive director has been on the job just three weeks. He seems to be taking in stride the enormity that he came onboard during the county's busiest time of the year.

Jim Bagby is still evaluating and assessing his new position, surroundings, and his employees, but he is no stranger to his environment as he has worked in the county for almost 10 years.

As town manager in Rosemary Beach, Bagby has sat on TDC committees and worked with three of his predecessors during those almost 10 years: Kriss Titus, Sonny Mares, and Dawn Moliterno.

Bagby says each brought their own strengths and weaknesses to the job.

Assessing his own strengths, Bagby believes he brings more management experience to the position than the other three.

And assessing the strengths of the others, Bagby gives the highest points to Titus.

"She was strongest in destination marketing, I think," he said. "I need to work on that…”

Bagby is already seeking to become certified as a destination management executive.

Another strength Bagby feels he possesses that none of the others had is that he has worked in the county for 10 years.

"I understand that the needs of Sandestin residents are not the needs of 30A residents, or those living north of the bay. I understand the complexities of my environment and the county better than the others did," he said.

Bagby also knows most of the county commissioners, those on the TDC advisory council, those in the Walton County Taxpayers Association, and most of  the 30A movers and shakers.

"I've got a lot of relationships built up, particularly in the south end. That will help me at the TDC," he said.

When asked to look back at the controversies and pitfalls that his predecessors encountered and how he plans to avoid them, Bagby answers with a laugh. First off, if it is determined that a new TDC building is needed, he definitely will not build it in the middle of state forest land, he said, referencing one of Moliterno's major controversies.

Bagby then went on to say that one thing Titus had in place that fell by the wayside was her effective use of committees. He wants to reinstate that practice.

"I am working to see how Kriss set them up and mirror the process for an advisory council," he said. "There are a lot of smart people in Walton County. Let's engage them."

Bagby sat on the TDC Beach Management Committee under Titus and Mares.

"Having committees enabled the TDC to socialize info going on inside the TDC," he explained. “I was the eastern end representative at the TDC as I saw a lot of Rosemary Beach people, and people from Alys Beach who called me because they knew I sat on the committee. It is the way people know stuff. Most people get their information from other people, not by reading. And committees are a way to get people invested in the process."

Bagby said he has asked for audits of the Walton County TDC as a way to “benchmark it” against the best tourism organization in the state.

"I don't think anything criminal happened; I'm just very analytical and methodical," he said.

As for any changes in staff or positions, he is presently taking recommendations from his staff and senior leaders as to what changes they think need to be made.

"Turnover is good as questions are then asked, and it forces us to rethink why we do things a certain way. But, I have no predisposed notions. After I look at all suggestions, I will then make recommendations," he said.

However, Bagby does not think people will be let go.

"But if any are, it won't be right off. I have taken over 40 or 50 organizations and never fired anyone when I first got there. I think that's poor management because when you do that, you get rid of everyone who knew what was going on," he said.

And, back to the possible need for a new TDC building, which the former executive director addressed, Bagby agrees that the current facility on the intersection of Hwy. 331 and 98 is in a "horrible location."

 "But we do get a lot of visitors stopping in. Some are travelers just looking for a clean restroom, but a lot are not, and are seeking information. I have met with DAG Architects and we're doing renovations on the second floor. But I will not vote to put a center in the state forest," he reiterates. "We will base it on the ISP report. If there is a need for a different facility, I will make a recommendation that it be located north of the town center annex."

But Bagby said such a decision is a year or more out.

A Texas native, Bagby is a graduate of West Point and has a master’s degree in public administration from Western Kentucky. The Army assigned him to Hurlburt as the Chief of the Joint Support element in 1999. He retired in 2003 and went to work as Town Manager at Rosemary Beach later that year.

A resident of Destin, Bagby serves on Destin City Council. He has been married for 27 years. 

"We talk about moving to South Walton as this has potential to be my terminal job," he said. "I first came here in 1977 and camped out in Grayton Beach."