Walton decides county commission and mosquito control district
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The race for the third and final seat on the Walton County Board of County Commissioners was decided Tuesday, as incumbent Republican Tony Anderson defeated Democratic political newcomer Dr. Carolynn Zonia in the District 5 race.
WALTON ELECTION RESULTS:View the numbers
"This is what you do — you give people a choice," Zonia, an emergency physician and community activist, said in acknowledging that voters had opted to return Anderson to office.
"I wish him the best," Zonia continued, adding that within minutes of the unofficial election results being made public, she had called Anderson.
Anderson earned 31,319 ballots in the race, for 73.97% of ballots cast. Zonia claimed 11,019 votes, or 26.03% of the ballots.
"I'm very happy about it, very humbled by it," Anderson said of his successful bid for re-election.
Looking ahead to his next four years on the commission, Anderson expressed a commitment to continuing the fight for "customary use," the county's ongoing legal battle to open all of its 26 miles of beaches, public and private, for the use of the public.
Anderson also sees growth and infrastructure issues as an ongoing challenge, saying he expects the Freeport area to be the next part of the county to be dealing with growth-related issues.
All Walton County commissioners are elected countywide, but they must reside in the district from which they run. District 5 covers most of the area south of U.S. Highway 98 along with the Hogtown Bayou area to the north of U.S. 98 and west of U.S. Highway 331.
The two other Walton County commission races on ballots this year, for District 1 and District 3, were decided in the primary election. The terms of District 2 Commissioner Trey Nick and District 4 Commissioner Danny Glidewell do not expire until 2022.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman, currently serving as the commission chairman, opted not to seek re-election this year. His seat, although not necessarily the chairmanship, is going to William "Boots" McCormick, a Freeport native and former Walton County sheriff's deputy who won the Republican primary election and was unchallenged in Tuesday's general election. District 1 covers the southeastern corner of the county.
District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper also opted not to seek re-election this year. The District 3 seat was won in this year's primary election by Republican Mike Barker, a former sheriff's deputy who became the county's first emergency management director. District 3 covers much of northwestern Walton County.
The new commissioners will be sworn in on Nov. 16, and the full commission will hold an organizational meeting the next day, at which time they will choose a chairman and vice chairman and discuss various committee assignments.
In the two other local races on the ballot Tuesday, for nonpartisan seats on the South Walton Mosquito Control DistdBoard, Doug Liles earned the Seat 1 post over incumbent John Magee in a tight contest. Liles earned 9,568 votes for 50.46% of the total, with Magee taking 9,395 ballots for 49.54% of the vote. Although close, the race does not meet the state's criteria for an automatic recount.
Liles, a political newcomer, is an entrepreneur and builder who established Southern Hybrid Homes and the Good Samaritan Institute in Northwest Florida.
Magee, retired president and CEO of a specialty chemical manufacturing company he and his wife started in 1993, had served with the SWMCD for 16 years.
In the Seat 2 contest, another political newcomer, Donna Johns, took the post from incumbent Tim Norris with a vote of 11,309 to 7,304. Johns took 60.76% of the vote, with Norris claiming 39.24% of ballots cast.
Johns, who retired from the Air Force as a special agent, has operated a private investigative business in Walton and Okaloosa counties for the past 20 years.
Norris is a real estate agent who has served with the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. He did not return a Tuesday phone call seeking comment on the election results.
The SWMCD was established in 1964 as a special taxing district for controlling mosquitoes and other nuisance insects in the southern part of the county. A separate mosquito control district covers Walton county north of Choctawhatchee Bay.
Incumbents Magee and Norris where challenged by Liles and Johns in large part on the basis of news that the SWMCD had set aside $8 million to build a new district headquarters complex.
Magee and Norris have defended the construction and renovation expenditure by noting that less than half of the money — $3.8 million — would fund construction of a new administration building, with the remainder of the money going to renovation of a number of outbuildings on the district's campus on County Road 393 in Santa Rosa Beach. And according to Norris, funds for the project have been set aside over time, so that the SWMCD won't have to borrow money to fund the construction and renovation projects.
Also factoring into the challenges against the two men was the district's move to add stormwater management to its duties. A budget proposal for the proposed South Walton Mosquito Control and Storm Water District shows possible expenditures of $31.9 million, with ad valorem tax revenues of the same amount. The SWMCD's current budget is $11 million.
Additionally, there was some concern over three lawsuits filed against the district by former employees. Settlements totaling $132,000 have been reached in the cases of one former employee who claims he was fired on the basis of a year-old disciplinary issue after he reported a former director had come to work drunk, and a second employee who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a fellow employee and retaliated against by her superiors when she reported the incident. The third case remains pending.
The fact that the lawsuits were filed "shows poor leadership," Johns said in a Monday interview
The Seat 1 race also was punctuated by controversy between Magee and Liles when Liles for a time used the South Walton Mosquito Control District logo on his campaign signs, which Magee said was improper. The logo, however, was apparently never copyrighted, but Liles did have new signs printed without the logo.
In a Monday interview, Magee called the Seat 1 contest "the craziest election I've ever been a part of," characterized by what he called false information and "a lot of hate."
Norris, too, was frustrated by the concern over the headquarters construction and renovation project, saying the existing headquarters building is clearly outdated.
"It's all a bunch of hoo-ha," Norris said the day before the election. "Enough's enough."
Liles referenced the construction and renovation project in Tuesday comments on his win. Asked what he wanted to do with his term on the board, he said, "we're not going to spend $8 million on a building ... ."
Additionally on Tuesday, voters in the northern part of the county approved a 2 percent tax on accommodations with proceeds to be used to market that part of the county to tourists and make tourism-related improvements in the area north of the Choctawhatchee Bay.
The vote on the 2 percent levy was 11,455 (55.95%) to 9,019 (44.05%).
With approval of the levy, 40 percent of the revenue generated by the tax on hotel and motel room charges, condominium rentals and other accommodations leased for less than six months, will have to be used to market the northern part of the county. The remaining 60 percent will be spent in north Walton as well, and could be used more broadly, such as to support events, programs or infrastructure that benefit visitors and locals alike.
A 5 percent tourist development tax already is collected in the southern part of the county, and now raises more than $25 million annually. That money is used in a variety of ways, from funding a lifeguard program to building and maintaining beach accesses to supporting local events.