It seems a new special interest group calling themselves the Walton County Small Business Association wants a special committee approved and appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. This group all of a sudden popped out of the woodwork in September when the BCC stepped up to the plate to address the parking and traffic problem in South Walton. Where has this group been for the past 10 to 15 years when all the decisions were made that created the problems?
I have very little sympathy for this new organization since many of these same people are responsible for the mess they themselves have created in South Walton. I do have a great deal of sympathy and empathy for the permanent and part-year residents, and short-term tourists who have to put up with the mess created by selfish special interest developers.
It’s well known these problems have been exacerbated by the county government making poor decisions favoring development sometimes in violation of their own rules and regulations. Homes and businesses have been squeezed into small spaces without regard to long term planning and any negative fallout on neighborhoods. The result has been a mix-mash of conflicting development design with inadequate roads, drainage, and parking space.
The failure to adequately plan for traffic control and parking facilities has brought about a crisis in some minds.
Now that the county has woken up and is trying to take some positive steps to address the issues we hear some of the same perpetrators of the mess crying wolf. It seems some of the business-supported past actions that were once wonderful have now created a backlash of negative issues and the ox has been gored.
For years individuals and neighborhood representatives have sounded the alarm on what was happening to South Walton. They knew exactly where the community was headed but were stiff armed by the Board of County Commissioners of the past.
Everything was hunky dory so long as developers got what they wanted. Now all of a sudden what they wanted has turned out to be an albatross around their necks. So they come up with a “blue ribbon committee” idea to help fix the problem. Give me a break. We have already seen what one sided special interest has done.
Commissioner Cindy Meadows is absolutely right on using the workshop process. This allows the public full access to the development of rules that apply to everyone. As with any ordinance a set of rules and procedures can usually be improved through a public workshop.
A statement reported in a local daily newspaper quoted hired spokesman Gary Shipman saying, “You can’t think outside the box in your workshop system.”
Obviously Mr. Shipman has very little experience with the workshop system in Walton County. They work very well indeed. Contrary to Shipman’s assertion public workshops, especially in South Walton, are heavily attended by the public and, believe you me, more often than not many folks do think outside the box and make no bones about it.
If was very clear at the last BCC meeting when the WCSBA spokesman presented the idea the political wheels had been greased. However, the unexpected happened. Commissioner Meadows and a citizen advocate spoke about the committee composition. There was nothing presented by Shipman that was inclusive to the whole community, just special business interest.
While the Walton County Small Business Association may be a legitimate organization with their own interest, the question is should they attempt to impose their interest on the entire population by having special access to the Board of County Commissioners through a Blue Ribbon Committee? In my opinion the answer is absolutely not! They can put forth their interest just like other organizations, small groups, and individuals in a public workshop.
Walton County does not need another sanctioned special interest committee. What we do need is a County Commission that will once and for all give credence to those public voices who have been speaking for years. Their alarm about congestion, traffic, parking, and development in general deserves a significant seat at the table of public opinion and the political process. The BCC can provide that opportunity in as many workshops as it takes to come to a reasonable solution.
J. B. Hillard is a DeFuniak Springs resident.