We are going to hold some people responsible.
That was the statement made on Tuesday as the Board of County Commissioners decided to move ahead with formalizing a new Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore, even when confronted with a businessman whose presence in the county was realized by the work of the previous Economic Development Council, insisted he had seen no progress on economic development in the past four or five years.
And if nothing is accomplished in the next 18 months – a lifetime given the attention span of commissioners but a moment in time for creating jobs – then some folks are going to be held accountable, said Commissioner Ward McDaniel.
Wonder what accountability applies to a former commissioner?
Because as the provisions and possible payout through the RESTORE Act proves more remote and less hefty than was promised again and again over the past two years, one wonders who the BOCC will hold accountable for the taxpayer money wasted on that effort.
The tens of thousands of dollars in travel for Commissioner Bill Williams as he traveled around the country, girlfriend in tow, to serve as the spokesmen for the Florida Association of Counties, and allegedly Gulf County, to lobby for legislation now seen as a roadblock to a settlement with BP.
A civil trial got underway this week before a federal judge in Louisiana.
Negotiations with BP for a final settlement of all civil claims, a sure thing Williams insisted, have been complicated by the competing interests of the affected Gulf Coast states, as reported last week by outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Any RESTORE funds coming here, if any, seem a long way off.
In fact, according to the reports from the two newspapers, negotiations were actually complicated by the RESTORE Act and the way it divides up settlement money.
Put it in micro terms.
The county RESTORE Act committee has done an excellent job of establishing a structure and process considering the committee is operating from no rules book.
But the committee is sitting on pre-proposals amounting to four times the amount considered the most optimistic number for money coming to Gulf County.
No wonder BP, as reported by major media outlets, has heartburn about the potential for paying claims beyond those specified under law without a strong legal fight – exhibit one being the willingness of the company to go to trial facing as much as $17 billion in fines.
Those reports also note that until an agreement is brokered among the five Gulf Coast states at the heart of the litigation – though only two states are actually parties to the suit, the other three would gain – BP is also less likely to settle.
If Gulf County is an example, no wonder this isn’t working on the macro level.
And Florida and its impacted counties have another blotch on the face with the shenanigans that transpired when BP was shelling out millions to promote tourism in Northwest Florida and providing grant funding for various projects.
Gulf County was not alone, certainly, but what a farce and missed opportunity it now seems given the extensive research just completed by the Tourist Development Council and how that research, if done years ago, could have brought more bang to the bucks the county received.
Bucks spread among those who had the inside track, such as Williams’ girlfriend, who along with Williams helped send a man to the unemployment line and unravel the TDC.
Remember, Williams loved to boast about his testimony before Congress, but that testimony included some pointed questions regarding how money was being spent in questionable and conflicted ways.
The Associated Press undertook an extensive investigation into those expenditures up and down the Gulf Coast and Williams and his girlfriend found themselves front and center in the whole charade.
So, now that the county is looking at seeing far less than promised, now that RESTORE has apparently gummed up the works, according to a host of reports, how exactly does the county hold anyone accountable for the tens of thousands of dollars paid with no results?
The Clerk of Courts is, at the request of Commissioner Joanna Bryan, assembling a total of BOCC travel over the past several years, a task so daunting Clerk Becky Norris said the work was ongoing two weeks after it started, but it would be fair to say it is going to exceed $80,000 with Williams alone.
The amount the EDA will receive from the county for one year.
And, as McLemore repeatedly stated before coming to the conclusion the county should hire Williams has a consultant on RESTORE, where is the meat and gravy from all that travel on public dime and extended absences from the district he represented?
If the BOCC is going to hold folks accountable, there is a good place to start because more and more RESTORE seems like a fine idea poorly executed and lacking vision, a roadblock being worked around by the parties involved in a negotiated settlement.
And Williams used that taxpayer-paid fuel for his own purposes, to promote himself into private service from alleged public service.
Plainly, RESTORE is not going to be the panacea for the county’s economic ills or the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity promoted by Williams and current Commissioner Warren Yeager.
Maybe for Williams, but not for the county.
RESTORE demonstrates that investing tens of thousands of dollars promises no return for economic development.
At least the EDA includes folks with eyes solely on the county because if anything has been learned we will only restore this county’s economy ourselves.