SOUTH WALTON — Lame duck Walton County Commissioner Cecilia Jones was forced Tuesday to defend her plan to spend county money to travel to Clearwater for a conference.
The Walton County Taxpayers Association questioned the wisdom of spending nearly $1,000 to send a commissioner with just a couple months left in office to the annual Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association meeting.
"I don't see the value in sending someone who is term limited and whose time is fixing to expire," WCTA Director Bob Hudson said. "We think this is a bad expenditure."
Jones, scheduled to leave office in mid-November, responded by saying she still has unfinished business to attend to, and high on her priority list is having a frank discussion with state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo.
Passidomo was the Senate sponsor of what has become known as House Bill 631, which voided Walton County's customary use ordinance and gave coastal beach owners the right to declare their property off limits to trespassers.
The bill has created chaos for local law enforcement as property owners and beachgoers have clashed over who has rights to the sand.
"The lady who sponsored the bill is going to be there," said Jones, a customary use advocate. "I would like to look her straight in the eye and tell her what chaos and what havoc she's caused in Walton County, that we've got neighbors fighting with neighbors and we don't really like someone from South Florida meddling in Walton County business."
On Sept. 21, Passidomo is slated to give the keynote address titled "Beach Policy and Funding and the Bigger Legislative Picture."
Commissioners voted 4-0 to approve spending $947 each for Jones and fellow Commissioner Tony Anderson to travel to Clearwater for the three-day conference.
As the discussion over the travel allowance grew contentious, resident Bob Brooke asked whether Jones' temper might prevent her from being an effective representative at the conference.
"I question whether sending someone to look a person in the eye and be vindictive about their involvement in the passage of a bill at the state level is a good use of the taxpayer's money," he said.
"I've never been vindictive," Jones responded. "I will go there with a smile on my face and be professional."
The commission plans to take the necessary steps outlined in HB 631 to re-establish its customary use ordinance. To do so it must hold public hearings and convince a judge that Walton County's beaches have long been shared by everyone.
Passidomo, a Republican whose 28th district encompasses Collier, Hendry and part of Lee County, has stated that "government taking of private property for public use" should only occur with judicial consent.