One of the Board of County Commissioners' latest moves was to appoint recently defeated District 1 Commissioner Bill Imfeld as interim director of the Economic Development Alliance, a one person department that is supposed to attract new businesses to Walton County. (The voters didn’t want Imfeld, but obviously the BCC does!) Ironically, Imfeld could make more money at the EDA, up to $75,000, than he did as a commissioner, which was about $38,000.
The EDA is funded largely by Walton County, about $140,000 a year, and about $20,000 comes from the cities of DeFuniak Springs, Paxton and Freeport.
In 2013, several of us at the Institute for Senior Professionals were invited by Commissioner Ken Pridgen, head of the EDA, to conduct a study and make recommendations. We looked at how Walton County could create jobs, and we produced a report that listed 25 specific recommendations, one of which was to invite Love’s Truck Stop to open a facility at Mossy Head, a 300-plus acre site the county owned that had sat idle for 11 years.
Bill Fletcher and I presented that idea to Commissioner Bill Imfeld even before we submitted our final report to the EDA. We urged him to follow up on our initial contact with Love’s. He didn’t. I then went to the EDA board and asked member Mac Work, a councilman from DeFuniak Springs, to contact Love’s. County Administrator Larry Jones got involved, and within three months, Love’s announced it would buy land at $20,000 an acre in Mossy Head and create more than 60 jobs. Total investment exceeded $7 million. Bill Imfeld likes to tell people he was responsible for bringing Love’s to the area.
The county sold land before they ever had it appraised. Imfeld was in favor of giving the land away just to get the jobs. Fortunately, no one listened to him. Soon after Love’s opened, five or six other businesses bought land, the largest being for FedEx Ground.
As we presented our report to the EDA in June of 2013, the EDA hired Steve Jaeger as director. He ignored our recommendations. Instead, he thought aerospace was the future for Walton County. At taxpayers' expense, he and Imfeld flew to Hamburg, Germany, to visit an Airbus plant. Notice how many jobs that produced! In three years, Jaeger accomplished nothing. Thankfully, he left in June.
Enter Imfeld. Imfeld was an FBI agent and worked for Walton County for about 15 years. No business background. He claims the EDA job wasn’t handed to him. The day after he lost the election, one of the commissioners had her intermediary contact Imfeld to assure him the EDA job was his, if he wanted it. None of the other candidates were interviewed. So Imfeld filled out an application and got the job, raising the question of whether the BCC has decided to do whatever it wants and once again ignore Florida’s Sunshine Laws.