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Committee selects Publix marketing exec. to head Citrus agency

UPDATE 9:44 a.m.: The Florida Citrus Commission's Executive Search Committee just selected Publix marketing manager Douglas Ackerman as its choice to head the state's Citrus Department. The full Commission will be asked to approve that decision Wednesday.

Committee members voted 4-2 to approve Ackerman for the executive director post, which could pay him as much as $250,000 a year. Prior to that, they debated for an hour about moving forward with Ackerman or possibly opening the search back up to solicit additional candidates. At the beginning of the meeting, they learned one of three finalists, Gregory Venner, had withdrawn from contention.

Citrus is one of the state's most lucrative commodities. The industry employs about 76,000 people and has an annual economic impact of $9 billion. The new agency head will be expected to focus primarily on marketing Florida orange juice internationally.

ORIGINAL POST: Members of the Florida Citrus Commission's Executive Director Search Committee are deciding how to move forward now that one of three finalists for the top job has dropped out. They had hoped to select one of the men as their top pick during today's meeting but are now considering opening the search process back up for new candidates.

Chairman Marty McKenna announced at the beginning of the morning that Gregory Venner of Newburgh, Ind., had removed himself from contention. Venner, a former executive vice president of SmartBalance who also worked for Tropicana during the 1990s, was the only one of the three finalists who had experience marketing citrus products.

McKenna said that another candidate, Publix marketing manager Douglas Ackerman, was his top choice all along and encouraged the other five members of the committee to focus on selecting him for the job, which will pay between $190,000 and $250,000 a year. Ackerman lives in Bartow.

Not much has been mentioned about the third candidate, Charles Powell of Lake Forest, Ill., who helped develop the "Got Milk?" campaign.

Commissioners are currently pushing back on McKenna's idea to focus on Ackerman. More than one said they were impressed by his enthusiasm for the job, but are concerned about his resume and related experience. (Note from Tia: I am listening via conference call to the Bartow meeting, and most speakers aren't identified by name.)

But on the other hand, commissioners said, if they open the search back up Ackerman may also decided to withdraw his name.

No specific reason was provided for Venner's withdrawal, but there are hints that he may have been uncomfortable with the publicity surrounding the search. Commissioners have mentioned that there were at least two people among their top 11 applicants who expressed concern about the media exposure as a result of Florida's Sunshine Laws, which required the search be held in public.

I will update this post as the meeting progresses.