In an about face the Gulf County Board of Commissioners said it would leave it to the local RESTORE committee to decide when and how they would hire outside expertise as the RESTORE Act process moves forward
Commissioners had twice voted to move ahead with hiring former commissioner Bill Williams in some capacity, but county attorney Jeremy Novak said during Tuesday’s regular meeting that hiring Williams would present some prohibitions.
Novak said he received an advisory opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics pertaining to the issue of hiring Williams, who left office last month, to work for the BOCC in some capacity as a resource/lobbyist for the RESTORE Act.
Williams, as an officer with Florida Association of Counties, has been a key local player in the RESTORE Act and at his final meeting last month Commissioner Carmen McLemore moved, and the full board approved, moving ahead with hiring Williams.
At the last BOCC meeting, Williams’ successor in the District 3 seat, Joanna Bryan, had attempted to halt the attorney exploring the options in hiring Williams but her motion died due to a 2-2 vote among board members present.
Novak said the Ethics Commission wrote that the county could hire Williams to work for the county, but that there were strict prohibitions against Williams representing a third party before the BOCC or lobbying for the county outside the county for the next two years.
“He can not lobby on the county’s behalf,” Novak said.
Novak emphasized that any violations of ethics law would fall on Williams, not the BOCC.
Commissioner Warren Yeager said the county’s RESTORE committee, an all-volunteer group, had made significant progress and was well ahead of the timeline for local work on RESTORE and hiring any consultant at this time would be premature, at best.
“We are way ahead of a timeline that this community needs advice on RESTORE,” Yeager said. “There will be a time we need expertise and lobbying but this is not the time. I think it is a dead issue.”
Yeager proposed leaving it to RESTORE committee members to alert the BOCC as to the need and scope of any outside expertise. His fellow commissioners agreed.
“It sounds like (hiring Williams) has a lot of strings, bells and whistles to it and we don’t need to go into that,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “Let’s let this dog lay.”
McDaniel added that there might be opportunities down the road to “piggy-back” with other small counties that are stakeholders in RESTORE to combine resources on outside expertise or lobbying.
And Novak noted that at the time the RESTORE committee requested such assistance from the BOCC, any scope of services that exceeded $5,000 would require the county to undertake a Request for Proposals or Request for Qualifications.
Under $5,000, the county would still have to secure the required number of quotes, unless, Novak said, the county could demonstrate a sole source or emergency exemption to those policies.
Yeager reported concerning the most recent meeting of the consortium of 23 counties working together to bring money from RESTORE to the state and counties.
He said a compromise had been reached on the so-called Pot No. 1 under the RESTORE Act, which represents 35 percent of the total fine monies that would be divided among the five impacted states. Under RESTORE, 75 percent of Florida’s share would go to the eight most impacted counties, including Gulf.
The compromise changed how that money would be spent. Originally, the first 10 percent of those funds would be divided under a formula among the eight counties. The compromise changes that percentage to 20 percent, which could mean, based on a final $10 billion fine, another $3-$6 million for the county.