Exclusive: SRIA Executive Director Leigh Davis has robust experience; bold vision
The mission of the Santa Rosa Island Authority is to “preserve natural resources, manage growth, and promote eco-friendly tourism in a clean, safe community environment.” Advocating to preserve our beautiful beaches, protect our environment, and manage the growth of Pensacola Beach all while simultaneously promoting tourism appears to be a mission that was tailor-made for former Leon County Parks & Recreation Director, Leigh Davis. The Pulse recently had a chance to sit down with Ms. Davis and learn more about her experience, her goals, and her vision for the SRIA.
On Her Background and Experience
Ms. Davis is a graduate of Auburn University. She believes that a focus public service is key to having a successful and thriving community. Ms. Davis spent a number of years working in the Florida State legislature, where she was in charge of Member Services within the Florida Association of Counties, which represents 67 counties in the state of Florida.
“Local government is where it’s at,” Ms. Davis stated. “Some would say that this relationship covers everything from ‘airports to zoos’…” she continued. “These are exactly the spaces that we aim to serve.” Having worked for so many years in our state capital assisting counties throughout the legislative process, Ms. Davis is confident that she will be able to pull from this experience to assist in navigating the existing relationships with leaseholders, business owners and government entities, and would also be able to expand upon these relationships to further build trust and confidence between all parties.
One of Leigh Davis’ very first jobs was actually in customer service, which she also says she can pull from. Every past job she has held is in some way relevant to helping her serve the public.
Ms. Davis’s 18 years working in Leon County (which holds the capital of Tallahassee) helps her to understand what it takes to maintain the public works and infrastructure of large county. She oversaw the Parks and Recreation department for 10 years, and feels that this experience greatly benefits her in her current position as the director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority.
“The island itself is our greatest natural resource,” Ms. Davis explained. “Pensacola Beach should not be taken for granted, and we must come to appreciate our amazing natural resources here on Santa Rosa Island.” Her previous experience as Director of Parks & Rec. allowed her to work with the Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the steadfast relationships she has already built will most certainly benefit the SRIA going forward.
Critical Issues Facing the SRIA
Since taking the Executive Director position on April 19, Ms. Davis has been able to meet with a number of key stakeholders from the Pensacola Beach community, including business stakeholders, Save Pensacola Beach activists, the Pensacola Beach Chamber of Commerce, Pensacola Beach Advocates, and those invested in the island’s Eco-Trail.
Ms. Davis has heard from these stakeholders that there are several key issues facing those living and working in the beach community. One of the most commonly discussed issues brought to her attention is that of traffic and parking. Ms. Davis recognizes that Escambia County Public Works is generally responsible for traffic, and as such, many of these issues will be under their administration. However, she plans to work in conjunction with Public Works at every opportunity possible, in order to provide them the assistance they need to achieve optimum efficiency for traffic recommendations and solutions. For those that have inquired on parking, Ms. Davis also expressed that the SRIA is not responsible for towing vehicles, and that private businesses cannot tow from public parking unless the offending vehicle is blocking traffic. The SRIA is currently researching ways to improve parking on the beach.
Another major issue facing our community is beach nourishment. “The SRIA has a funding goal of $20 million by 2025 in order to fulfill our beach nourishment needs,” Ms. Davis stated plainly. “Beach nourishment is a critical environmental priority facing our community right now.” Ms. Davis acknowledges that this will be a huge funding issue going forward, but also says the SRIA is looking at a myriad of funding sources in order to fulfill this need and help protect our most precious natural resources.
Thirdly, Ms. Davis wants to focus on the issue of balancing tourism while maintaining a sense of community. While VRBO rentals are a part of the economy and residents welcome tourism, many residents also would like to maintain peace and tranquility. Striking the perfect balance between a small, hometown feel and also being welcoming to tourists is often difficult for many island communities, but it is not impossible.
Lastly, the SRIA wants to hone in on island beautification- something that almost every stakeholder has raised concerns about. This is of particular importance after many buildings and homes suffered damage due to Hurricane Sally.
Responding to the Pensacola Bay Bridge Closure
Ms. Davis believes that businesses will start to see an explosion of activity responding to pent up demand for travel and leisure. She is hopeful that conditions will continue on their current path to normalcy, but recognizes that some businesses, especially hotels, do remain closed as a result of Hurricane Sally and the destruction that was done to the bridge.
Ms. Davis currently resides on Pensacola Beach with family. She expressed that the people of Pensacola Beach have been welcoming and kind. the SRIA held a Meet & Greet for Ms. Davis on May 3rd, which went well, having approximately 70 people in attendance.
Three major goals, including improvements to SRIA Website
Ms. Davis’ top three goals include progressing the SRIA in the areas of administration, communication, and technology. These new goals would promote transparency and accountability within the SRIA and between agencies.
One thing that may happen quite quickly are major improvements to the SRIA’s websites. Some of these improvements include: being able to pay online, submitting PDFs/paperwork online, making the meeting agendas more searchable, and, most importantly, being able to watch board meetings online.
We look forward to seeing what Ms. Davis accomplishes during her tenure with the SRIA.