The Board of County Commissioners ended a brief experiment in beach driving Tuesday.
Commissioners unanimously eliminated the weekly, or 7-day, beach driving permit less than one year after passing an ordinance approving the temporary permits.
The original idea behind adding the 7-day permit was to reap additional revenue from visitors not staying more than a few days or a week and not wishing to pay for the annual permit, the price for which commissioners raised to $250.
However, the temporary permits caused more problems than could be mitigated by any additional revenue and exposed a loophole through which some visitors would risk a violation – with a fine of $250 – rather than pay for a seasonal pass.
Additionally, the Tourist Development Council advisory board had expressed dismay with the permit allowing drivers not familiar with Gulf County beaches, dune systems, turtle nesting protocols and the like on the beach.
“The 7-day permit definitely caused some problems,” said Commissioner Warren Yeager.
Commissioners amended the ordinance to strike the 7-day permit and also adjusted the fines.
Driving violations on the beach would cost $500 for a first offense and $750 for a second.
Racing on the beach or pulling skiers behind a vehicle would result in a $500 fine on first offense, $750 for a second offense.
Other violations would bring a fine of $250 and $400 for first and second offenses, respectively.
Commissioners will decided at their next meeting whether to approve a recommendation from a citizens committee examining rules and regulations for the beach.
The recommendation was that those ticketed for not having a permit would have seven days to come in and pay the fine. If they did so, the second $250 of the fine – the permits costs $250 - would be adjusted down, proposed to $100.
“We are trying to walk the line between protecting the resource and allowing the public to utilize that resource,” Yeager said.
The BOCC will hold its next budget workshop, when commissioners will get a first look at a preliminary budget, at 9 a.m. ET Thursday, July 17.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan suggested commissioners hold the meeting in the evening when the public could attend and provide input but her suggestion had no support.
Yeager noted required public hearings on the budget must be held after 5 p.m., but Bryan countered that those hearings arrive “after the discussions and work have been done.”
Bryan’s continued her comments about the ability of the public to have input and understanding on BOCC issues when administrator Don Butler passed out a final contracted price for the building of a new fire house for the White City Volunteer Fire Department.
Bryan said it was “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” for Butler to be placing in front of commissioners an item on which they would be asked to vote within a few minutes.
She said this was an issue she had brought again and again, that such items as how the BOCC spends money or sets policy should be included in the agenda for public awareness and good decision-making.
“We are for open government,” Bryan said, challenging her fellow commissioners to raise the level of openness and professionalism on the board and on their treatment of her.
“I’m tired of operating in a sloppy fashion ... I am not a rubber stamp,” Bryan continued. “I’m tired of trying to be civil with people who have no sense of civility.
“I am tired of this board treating me as if I’m not a member of this board. I will continue to fight for the people of Gulf County.”
Commissioners Tan Smiley and Ward McDaniel said they rely on staff to provide them the answers to any questions and if something is in order when it arrives in front of them they had no issue.
“How do you know it is in order?” Bryan asked.
Butler said he was adhering to the ordinance commissioners had passed in April providing him authority to negotiate contracts, leases, etc. subject to board approval. The White City fire house had been an issue for years and he had only received the price list he put in front of commissioners the prior evening.
He took strong issue with any insinuation that he had not done everything “straight by the book.”
Butler continued the debate by taking umbrage to Bryan’s communication, or in some cases lack thereof, with staff, saying she “interfered” with his business and she was only holding on to “conspiracy theories.”
Butler passed out email exchanges between he and Bryan about the temporary cutting of power and water to two parks, saying they were full of untruths.
Commissioners said the issue was an internal one and encouraged Butler and Bryan to sit down and iron out their differences.
Beacon Hill resident Jennifer Corbin spoke at the end of the meeting.
“Perception is something we need to manage,” she said. “Information being passed out with little time (to consider) … there is an anxiety from some in the community that somebody is trying to pull a fast one.
“That may not be true, but that is the perception. The perception that our commissioner should not seek information is weird.”