Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA) hires new Executive Director after using back-up voting process

Leigh Davis will replace Paolo Ghio as the Executive Director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA) following multiple rounds of voting and initial uncertainty over the selection process. After the Board failed to select a candidate with a supermajority of votes, Leigh Davis was selected via an alternate back-up method which utilized “rank choice” voting. 

The attorney for the SRIA was present during the special meeting held on February 24, and explained how the Executive Director voting process set was to play out. “Here’s my suggestion on the paper ballot- if you remember last time, you voted on grid, and you know, you voted on what you thought was number 1, number 2, and number 3. There are two ways that I would suggest this ballot work: the first, any individual who gets four “number 1’s” won that ballot being your presumptive candidate, and as a back-up, what you would do is a cumulative score of all the votes- and whoever gets the lowest votes- they may not get four “number 1’s” but they get the lowest votes- then the board would vote to accept that individual as their candidate.” 

This new voting process involved the board members ranking their choices, and then voting to certify the selection of one of the remaining three candidates: Sandra Ambris, Leigh Davis, and Edward Spears. 


Paolo Ghio, longtime executive director of the SRIA board announced retirement in late 2020 and will exit his position at the end of March 2021. The SRIA oversees development and leasing on Pensacola Beach.

The SRIA board consists of six members- one board member appointed by each county commissioner, and one board member elected by beach leaseholders. A supermajority consisting of four votes is required to hire an Executive Director. However, as no candidate was able to secure this majority, an alternative process was suggested and utilized. In this alternative process, board members ranked the candidates.

The SRIA board met on February 10 and discussed the candidates under consideration: Sandra Ambris, Leigh Davis, and Edward Spears, however, they did not come to a majority decision.

The process for selecting the candidate has been under scrutiny, as the SRIA hired an outside consultant to source the candidates and has subsequently had difficulty in selecting from the candidates, as well as understanding many details of the hiring process and communicating these details to the public. 

After the Vote

After the vote revealed that Leigh Davis had the lowest number of points, one board member made a motion to accept that result and another seconded that motion. 

SRIA Board Member Karen Sindel continued to express concern that no candidates had reached the required number of votes. 

“The Board did not come to a consensus and did not have four votes for one candidate,” said Karen Sindel, Board Member District 2, during the meeting. “We’re basically saying, ‘Okay, let’s look at who came in second and that’s who we’ll offer this position to.’ Again, that doesn’t mean they’re not qualified…but as a board, we’re basically saying we don’t see a candidate that we see as most qualified, so we’re going to do a secret ballot, vote, and whoever wins second, gets it.”

Sindel encouraged the Board to discuss the reasons why Davis was chosen, however, the Board voted 6-0 to accept Davis’ selection without any discussion. “The leaseholders out here….99% of them haven’t  looked at resumes or had the opportunity to maybe understand why someone was chosen. It might be a good opportunity to say why Ms. Davis is your best choice.”

The Board then officially offered the Executive Director position to Leigh Davis, who is set to work with staff to bring back a proposed employment agreement at the next SRIA meeting.