Walton County Commissioner Danny Glidewell, who, in private conversations with beach property owners prior to his 2018 election championed a compromise solution to the customary use issue, has stepped back from that position.
His decision to do so has angered some owners and perplexed others.
“He got elected and he got a whole lot of money, and he never did anything about holding a public hearing to work things out,” said Suzanne Harris, the general manager at Edgewater Condominiums.
H.B. 631 and customary use, the idea that all of Walton County’s 26 miles of beaches should be publicly accessible, were key topics in last year’s Walton County Commission race. Glidewell and Bill Fletcher, a candidate for a second commission seat, were forced to steer clear of controversy if they were to have any hope of defeating well-funded opponents in Cecelia Jones and Trey Nick.
Many South Walton residents are anti-customary use. They believe they have the right to keep the public off of the beach areas behind their homes to which they hold title.
Jones and Nick, neither of whom had to rely on the good will of the county’s relatively few beachfront property owners for votes or financial support, early on staked out pro-customary use stances, as the vast majority of county residents favored opening the county’s beaches to the public.
They also strove to depict Glidewell and Fletcher as anti-customary use.
“The opposition continues to stir this and is going to continue to push farther and farther to try and catch either Fletcher or I ‘opposing’ CU so they can hammer us,” Glidewell told former Arkansas Gov. and South Walton resident Mike Huckabee in a July 28, 2018 email.
Glidewell and Fletcher needed the support of wealthy beach owners, but couldn’t afford to publicly state anything other than full-throated support of customary use.
Fletcher called publicly for compromise on the issue. Glidewell did not. Fletcher lost his race against Nick, while Glidewell defeated Jones.
Asked this week if the stance he took on customary use cost him election, Fletcher replied “absolutely.” He said several pro-customary use supporters turned against him when he spoke of compromising with the beach owners.
Fletcher said he continues to support making Walton County’s beaches accessible to the public, but he thinks if a compromise can be reached between beach owners and the county, which is seeking a court declaration of customary use, it will save everyone millions in legal costs.
Emails recently made public show that even as he campaigned as a pro-customary use candidate, Glidewell was quietly telling South Walton constituents many of the same things Fletcher was, that he supported compromise between the county and the beach owners.
“If we (Glidewell and Fletcher) can get elected I believe that with (commissioner) Melanie (Nipper) we would have a real good opportunity to craft a compromise to get us out of this mess,” Glidewell said in an email sent to Fletcher and several South Walton residents. “I think a reasonable compromise is both possible and desirable.”
This week Glidewell said he is pro-customary use and always has been. He said he’s given up the idea of compromise on the issue.
“In my 4 months in office I have talked to many individuals on both sides of this issue and at present I can see no compromise,” he said in an email. “I believe the beaches have been used for generations to sunbathe, run/walk, fish, surf and enjoy and I have not seen any proposal that does not seek to limit those activities. I will not support any effort to take away from our citizens privileges that have existed for generations.”
South Walton resident Don Riley wasn’t happy to learn Glidewell had given up on working toward a compromise.
“I don’t know what changed Danny’s mind and position on CU. Suffice it that I’m disappointed in his decision,” he said.
In a telephone conversation, Glidewell said he has come to realize opponents of customary use aren’t really interested in working for solutions.
“They’re not interested in a deal, they’re interested in forcing us to surrender,” he said. “I don’t feel like surrendering.”
Glidewell said the emails made public were private conversations he’d held as a candidate, and that they were released to embarrass him.