County Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith has called out the county’s tourism director for "inappropriate" comments to the press and is asking that all department heads now refrain from talking to the media.
This all stems from the controversial decision by the county commission to block a library digital subscription to the New York Times. That action has created a national backlash.
Smith said it was wrong for John Pricher, director of the Citrus County Visitors Bureau, to assume that tourism is affected based on some email claims he received from people who said they were not coming to Citrus County.
Pricher, who made the comments to a Citrus County Chronicle reporter, said he had not spoken with hoteliers or tour boat operators at the time.
“I feel this wholly inappropriate,” Smith wrote to County Administrator Randy Oliver. “To base a statement that it has impacted tourism, based off of some email claims of not coming to the county is wrong. I may be wrong, but the impact of anything is unknown until after the fact.”
Smith, contacted in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, said he will meet with Oliver when he returns and explore how to go about enacting a possible policy that would require all county staffers to direct all their comments to the government’s spokeswoman, Cynthia Oswald.
“We need to make sure that we speak with one voice in a way that is appropriate to the situation,” Smith said.
Pricher told the Chronicle when the controversy broke, that he received 10 anonymous and signed emails from tourists who all oppose county commissioners’ actions.
“They disagree with it and most say they’re not coming to the area because of it or they’re changing their plans,” Pricher said. “I’m hoping that it’s just a vocal minority and things just continue to move forward.”
In all, the county received about 3,000 emails and an untold number of phone calls from people commenting on the commissioners’ decision, which has now mushroomed into a national story.
Pricher said Tuesday he stands by his comments to the Chronicle.
“I think I was honest and truthful based on what I was asked,” he said. “We received the emails and that’s what they said.”
Pricher said again he doesn’t believe this New York Times flap will have a significant long-term effect on tourism.
“It’s not something like a red tide event where it lingers for months at a time,” he said.
As to Smith exploring a mandate that he and other staffers only comment through the county spokeswoman: “I’ll follow whatever policy is decided,” Pricher said.