FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A Florida Panhandle county has hired an interim tourism director to replace a man who died amid accusations that he misused public money sent by BP after the 2010 oil spill.
Okaloosa County's airports director, Greg Donovan, was named Saturday as interim head of the Tourist Development Council.
Donovan replaces Mark Bellinger, who died Friday of an apparent drug overdose.
Bellinger, 52, resigned Tuesday after admitting to using tax dollars to buy a $710,000 yacht he said was for county tourism promotions, though county commissioners said they didn't know about it.
Bellinger was reported missing after his wife found a suicide note at their home Thursday, the same day authorities said they had issued an arrest warrant related to Bellinger's purchase of his $747,000 Destin house with money sent to the county by BP for oil spill restitution.
Bellinger was found Friday morning in his car in Alabama. He later died at a hospital. He had been hired in May 2010, just weeks after the massive BP spill began in the Gulf of Mexico.
Donovan told the Northwest Florida Daily News (http://bit.ly/J7onRE) that he'll start working Monday with investigators and auditors to review all transactions made during Bellinger's tenure. The county has put a temporary hold on all tourism development spending.
"Clearly, Mark's made some very bad decisions," Donovan said. "His actions will be thoroughly investigated, there is no question, and we will fix what is broken."
County Administrator Jim Curry said he chose Donovan because he could take command quickly as the summer tourist season begins in the Panhandle.
BP gave the tourism council an $8.6 million grant to help lure tourists back to the county's beaches. The grant was part of more than $30 million BP gave seven tourism councils in northwest Florida.
The Northwest Florida Tourism Council, which includes the Okaloosa County council, released a statement Saturday expressing shock over the allegations against Bellinger.
As part of their contracts with BP, the tourism development directors had to submit their marketing plans to the company and notify BP about any changes. Okaloosa County never made any change orders to their plan, according to the statement.
Donovan is expected to remain interim tourism director for four to six months while a permanent replacement is found, Curry said.
Information from: Northwest Florida Daily News, http://www.nwfdailynews.com