With a bit of prodding from a citizen, county commissioners spent the last portion of last week’s meeting in vocal outrage about the Political Action Committee Citizens Improving Gulf County.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore provided a hint of what was to become when he insisted that county attorney Jeremy Novak state for the record that he did not have a conflict of interest pertaining to future decisions concerning BP litigation given that McLemore had once worked for BP in the aftermath of the spill.
Novak said it was up to McLemore to file the appropriate forms and to clarify any potential ongoing conflict from McLemore’s employment. As noted later in the meeting by Bill Koran, McLemore earned roughly $250,000 after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
According to his annual financial filings, McLemore’s net worth spiked from under $90,000 to nearly $300,000 while working for BP.
But the fireworks were lit when Port St. Joe resident Christine McElroy, who is working with Economic Development Council on strategic planning, came to the podium to speak.
McElroy said she was concerned about an effort that seemed less about politics than “destroying lives and hurting people in the community.”
She said she had cooperated with a State Attorney investigation into what Commissioner Bill Williams called a “blackmail” attempt by the PAC against Commissioner Warren Yeager and launched into a discussion about the link between the PAC and campaign contributions from some members for a candidate in District 3.
Williams said the PAC was “out of control” and acknowledged that he had also cooperated with the State Attorney investigation by wearing a wire to obtain incriminating evidence about the alleged blackmail.
Williams, a Republican, added his hopes that the candidate singled out by McElroy, Joanna Bryan, “loses” and said the State Attorney investigation is the public’s business.
Williams and Bryan are both Republicans and the local Republican Party is endorsing Bryan.
According to a Public Information Officer with the State Attorney’s Office, the investigation was closed without any charges being brought on Oct. 16.
The PIO said it was reopened after last week’s meeting.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said to McElroy that anybody had the right to make campaign contributions as they wished.
Williams said the PAC’s campaign had become too personal.
“You have the right to question our decisions, but you do not have the right to personal attacks,” he said, directing his remarks to several PAC members in the meeting room. “They know no bounds. It is not about bullying, it is about being a coward.”
McLemore suggested that members of the PAC were “blow-ins” to the county who should just go back to Georgia and Alabama and quit telling elected officials how to act.
Later, McLemore suggested that he wanted people to move to Gulf County but not come intent on telling government what to do.
Williams said the PAC included malicious and cold-hearted people and added his own accusation about alleged acts by the PAC to those detailed by McElroy, who had detailed the same acts before commissioners in August.
Bill Koran, who ran against Yeager for the District 5 seat, came to the podium to note that McLemore made $250,000 while working with BP, itself a conflict, and nearly one-third the entire amount of fine money the county has received to date.
He also challenged commissioners to provide a single instance in which Koran had said something that was not true.
After additional back and forth, commissioners moved to the next issue.