Two weeks ago Port St. Joe commissioners wondered what it would take to forge a professional working relationship with the Board of County Commissioners.
Tuesday the BOCC pondered a similar question concerning the city.
The two government bodies continued a back-and-forth on the proposed move of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency out of the Tourist Development Council Welcome Center, with the county countering a city proposal to revisit an interlocal agreement that dates to the WindMark Beach Development of Regional Impact (DRI).
The city seeks to rework the language in that agreement to reflect realities on the ground, hoping the BOCC would agree to an alternate disbursement of a fire tax the city pays the county.
The city proposes that taxes paid for a fire station at WindMark be instead divided among the fire departments in Highland View, the Beaches and Port St. Joe that respond to fires in the WindMark area.
City commissioners, noting that the lease for the Welcome Center is between the city and TDC and that it ensures space for the PSJRA, is willing to consider moving the PSJRA to the Local Color building provided the county reworked the interlocal agreement and agreed to cover costs of the move and the building’s insurance.
County commissioners on Tuesday noted that the TDC funded the move of the Welcome Center off the peninsula and has funded landscape maintenance the past several years which is a responsibility of the city.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan moved that the BOCC agree to cover moving costs and pay the insurance, minus the funds the TDC has spent on landscaping, which renders the insurance payment effectively a wash.
“I don’t see the connection between the interlocal agreement and the PSJRA moving,” Bryan said. “There are a lot of complicated issues concerning that interlocal agreement.”
Commissioner Warren Yeager said the TDC board, on which the mayor of Port St. Joe sits, approved the move of the PSJRA with no strings.
But the discussion quickly turned into a review of the interlocal agreement, hammered out in 2005, which laid out responsibilities and promises made by the city and county in order for the city to annex the WindMark Beach property and which has spurred ongoing tension since.
“Why, when we try to do a little business (with the city) we have complications?” asked Commissioner Ward McDaniel, echoing similar words spoken at Port St. Joe City Hall two weeks ago.
“Greed,” was Commissioner Tan Smiley’s answer.
Near the end of the meeting, Smiley picked up that thought, assailing the agreement as a product of elected officials looking out for themselves and the city for failing to move ahead on affordable housing when the land is available – Smiley said the city had 100 acres for affordable housing as part of the DRI – to focus on WindMark Beach.
“Everybody who made that decision (on the agreement) was out there for personal gain,” Smiley said of a document largely negotiated by former County Commissioner Bill Williams and former City Commissioner John Reeves. “This agreement was about greed.
“We have more interest in putting up a lighthouse than putting up affordable housing for people. Government is designed to help the people. I am not here to help people who can live anywhere they want. How can people sleep?
“I don’t care about no lighthouse, I don’t care about no WindMark. I care about helping people.”
Commissioners also took up and approved an agreement with the new Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. to move forward on economic development.
Commissioners voted on returning funding to a new EDA in February. The BOCC is pledging to restore funding of $80,000 per year previously earmarked for the former Economic Development Council.
But commissioners could not agree on which form of the agreement to consider; the original drafted by the county attorney and placed in the consent agenda or a revision made after receiving comments from stakeholders.
While attorney Jeremy Novak said he had no problems with the revisions, Commissioner Carmen McLemore refused to consider the revised version when put forward under a motion from Bryan.
“My goal was to have defined deliverables,” Bryan said of the revised version, which replaces broad language on the role and responsibilities of the EDA with specific details on the tasks ahead.
“I want the EDA to understand what is required of them. I want it clear and definable.”
The original version also provided a set termination date which could be exercised for any reason, just cause or not, by the BOCC.
Bryan pushed language that would require the BOCC to notify the EDA of problems to allow the agency to correct them.
McLemore would have none of it.
“My goal is to follow that man (Novak),” he said. “We pay him to do this. I do not support your motion.”
McDaniel agreed with McLemore – with very little debate, the three commissioners other than Bryan sided with McLemore in approving the original EDA agreement – and said he wanted to see a budget and bylaws before releasing any money to the EDA.
EDA chair Guerry Magidson said those would be provided Tuesday afternoon.