(May 19) The Florida Citrus Commission has chosen a new leader who comes from a citrus family and from within the Florida Department of Citrus.

The commission, which governs the department, announced May 17 it had hired Ken Keck, the department’s general counsel and director of government relations, as the marketing organization’s executive director.

Keck succeeds longtime director Dan Gunter, who in March announced he was resigning to go into private industry.

Andy Taylor, commission chairman and vice president of finance for Peace River Citrus Products, Vero Beach, Fla., said the commission’s search committee reviewed 21 candidates. Several who made the short list of five possessing more marketing-oriented backgrounds.

Keck will be an effective chief executive officer, he said.

“You don’t have to be a marketing person,” Taylor said. “The big key is you have to have the intelligence and the leadership qualities to motivate the staff to make sure we get the most out of the agencies.”

Taylor credited Keck, 39, with helping successfully guided the department through the box tax fight and gaining federal marketing funding after the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes created assessment funding shortfalls.

Keck, who joined the department in 2002, was previously director of legislative and regulatory affairs for Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest citrus grower industry group.

A third-generation citrus grower from Lake Placid, Fla., Keck said his citrus growing background will help him head the organization that conducts marketing campaigns for the grower-processor dominated commission.

Keck and his brother, James Keck, and sister, Janet Keck, co-own a 70-acre grove in Highlands County. In 2001, the Keck family liquidated the 58-year-old citrus business it co-owned called Sebring Packing Co. Inc., Sebring, Fla. Sebring Packing was a member of the Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., cooperative.

He also worked as a congressional aide for two Florida congressmen from 1994-99.