Holley-Navarre Water Department board member, Robert Coley, didn’t tell the truth when he said he was not planning on resigning the Holley-Navarre Water System Board of Directors.
At the May 16 meeting the board members and the 30 people in attendance expected board member Robert Coley to resign his position. In fact, board members had already interviewed his replacement. Recently, Coley resigned his position on the Navarre Beach Fire Department Board of Commissioners in anticipation of moving to his newly purchased property in Tennessee.
The anticipation wasn’t just conjecture; it had been discussed in the weeks before the May meeting outside of the board room in off-the-record meetings. His replacement, Mark Miller of Century 21 Island View Realty and president of the Navarre Area Board of Realtors, was hand-picked by Coley and in attendance, waiting for his moment to be installed as the new board member. Coley and Miller knew each other and were both Realtors at Century 21. Gaius Bruce, also a water board member, is married to one of the brokers at Century 21 Island View Realty. But that moment never came. At some point during the meeting Coley changed his mind.
In an interview with Navarre Press, Miller said in the weeks before the May meeting he had a discussion with several board members that he knew individually. “They said well, if this were to happen, would you be interested in the position? And I told them I would be.” But Miller said it sounds like no one has any immediate plans to resign and therefore he may consider running in the next board election.
NABOR’s executive director, Angela Campbell was also present at the meeting in support of Miller. “Our board has taken a position that if a member of our board were nominated for the HNWS board, we would support our president 100 percent.”
And as proof of NABOR’s support, in the minutes of their May meeting, a motion was made and seconded to issue a letter of recommendation for Mark Miller to be appointed to the HNWS board (should a vacancy be announced). The motion carried.
But during questions from the floor at the HNWS meeting, Holley by the Sea board president, Yvonne Harper asked each director if they intended to resign their position “anytime soon.” Each one said “no” – including Coley.
Navarre Press asked the board members if they were aware of Coley’s intended resignation. Coley did not return the multiple calls made to him. Troy Bossier said he believed it was all “common knowledge” but that he was not comfortable answering questions about it and that all questions should be answered by the system’s general manager, Paul Gardner.
Calkins said he was made aware of Coley’s intent to resign after the April meeting when Coley told him he would be moving to Tennessee. In fact, Calkins says Coley and May told him to vote Miller onto the board and arranged for him to meet Miller along with Bruce and Coley. It ended up being a meeting between Calkins and Miller with May showing up later.
Board member Brian Kelly says he was asked to meet with Miller but he declined. “Transparency is my job, and this is not being transparent,” Kelly said.
Ricki Desantis said May was contacting him and Calkins by text message requesting them to meet with Miller Sunday, May 7. “I told James, you tell him absolutely not. I go to church on Sundays, this is a volunteer position. And I don’t agree with this.”
Gaius Bruce said he knew Coley was resigning but wasn’t sure of the date. He also said he thought Miller would make a “fine” board member.
The Holley-Navarre Water System board meetings are becoming more contentious by the month, including an instance when the president of the board, Bien May, told the vice president, James Calkins to “shut your mouth” twice in front of an appalled audience.
At the May 16 meeting, discussions became heated when Calkins took exception to being denied information. The document in question was a legal opinion issued by the organization’s attorney about whether or not the special meeting called in April was a proper meeting. Calkins had requested the document from an employee of the water company.
“I asked for the memo and Paul (Gardner) said he could not give it to me because he was ordered by you (Bien May) not to give it to me,” Calkins said.
“You need to stop harassing our employees. If you keep it up, you will have a complaint lodged against you for harassment,” May responded.
“That sounds like a threat. I request information and its harassment? That sounds like a threat,” Calkins said. And May finished the discussion with, “Shut your mouth, shut your mouth.”
In recent months, controversy has arisen in the board meetings over, among other things, political endorsements. In the April meeting, Calkins made a motion for HNWS board to support the reopening of the Navarre Pass but later had to amend it at the board’s request. Coley was particularly vocal about the board not making political endorsements and Bossier made a motion to stop any political endorsements by the board as a whole. The motion passed.
However, at the May meeting, Coley presented a “letter of appreciation” or soft endorsement to District 4 Commissioner and Chairman Rob Williamson. The letter, written by Coley, said in part, “We are pleased that Commissioner Williamson takes the time to dig into all of the issues, analyze the issues and support the actions and projects that provide the greater good for the citizens of District 4….Thank you Chairman Williamson for your support.”
Williamson, who was present for the heated discussions thanked the board for the letter and laughingly said he thought he was being “punked” when he walked into the middle of the argument. He also conveyed that he hoped things could be worked out amicably.
The debates even brought Ken Walker, former long-time general manager of HNWS, back to the May meeting. When the floor was opened to the public, Walker sent a message.
“I would like to remind you, the board of directors’ main function is to do those things that are in the best interest of Holley-Navarre Water System; not the community, not the potential city, not the individual board members and not the employees,” Walker said. “And if they don’t do those things, they need to be run off.”
Read the full article in the May 25 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online for as little as $38 per year.