A slap on the wrist is all County Commissioner and Chairman Rob Williamson will face for deciding to remove the temporary welcome signs placed at the foot of the Navarre Beach Causeway.
The Board of County Commissioners also decided Monday morning to replace the signs with the new versions that were approved months ago.
The metal signs were installed May 25 as part of a larger tourism rebranding campaign for the county in which identical signs were placed throughout the beach. The project cost more than $33,000 in bed taxes collected from visiting tourists.
The temporary metal signs were going to be replaced by a permanent version the following week, and they replaced the long standing “Florida’s best kept secret” signs.
Social media reactions to the signs came with mixed reviews, but Williamson stated overwhelming negative response prompted him to act. He said for residents the “Florida’s best kept secret” signs were a symbol of home. He went as far as comparing them to the Hollywood sign in California.
But commissioners Sam Parker and Lane Lynchard questioned whether the Facebook responses that he referred to were really enough to justify his actions considering they did not accurately represent the county as a whole.
At approximately 1 a.m. the morning after the signs were installed Williamson removed the temporary metal signs with a hammer, leaving behind the exposed poles ahead of Memorial Day Weekend. He then posted a picture of his handy work to Facebook with the statement “done.” Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Deputies were on scene at the time, but they made no arrests.
Williamson said he believed the county still possessed the “best kept secret” signs and could put them back up, but those signs were never county property.
They were placed on the beach by the now defunct Beach Beautification Committee (BBC) which quit following disagreement with Williamson. Members of the previous committee were told they could take ownership of their signs following the switch out by Tourism Development Director Julie Morgan.
And they did.
Larry Sims of the defunct committee said the signs have been taken by past members of the committee and put in a secure location.
So the posts remain bare.
During the meeting, Commissioner Bob Cole initially praised Williamson.
“You did exactly what you should have done. You stepped up to the plate this morning and took your lickings, and I think we need to put it behind us,” he said.
This prompted applause from members of the public in attendance.
Fellow commissioners did not agree. Lynchard openly criticized Williamson’s “unilateral decision.”
“I disagree with the action of taking the sign down in the middle of the night based on unilateral decisions of one commissioner based on Facebook comments. We operate as a board,” he said. “We didn’t have any signage at the entrance to Navarre Beach for Memorial Day weekend.”
Lynchard said it has been a laughing stock.
Parker said what Williamson did was disrespectful.
“I that the actions you took were very disrespectful to myself as well as the other four county commissioners,” he said. “I spent nearly a decade of my life enforcing laws, and I came to appreciate order. I definitely don’t feel that an outcry of public criticism whether it be Facebook, phone call, email or whatever media should have changed the course of how we regularly have business. This is where we make the decisions, not outside this board room.”
Parker went on to say that Williamson’s actions during and after the incident “vilified” the other commissioners and staff. He referred to a hashtag Williamson prompted citizens on Facebook to use: “#BRINGBACKOUR SIGN.”
“This [rebranding] campaign was started months before I took this seat and it seemed that until a week ago we were unified on it,” Parker said.
Cole would later correct his statement saying he meant that Williamson was right to bring the issue to the board and open it up for comment following his actions May 26.
While the commissioners condemned Williamson’s choices, they did not call for any action to be taken against him.
Navarre resident Bob Hutchinson disagreed with that choice
“When I was on active duty as a commander if I had a subordinate that acted in this manor I would have at a minimum relieved them from leadership position pending an investigation,” he said.
Resident Yvonne Harper also said she would like to see disciplinary action taken.
“If I had done this for the exact same reasons under the exact same circumstances, and I was seen by law enforcement in the middle of the night removing a county property sign I would have been arrested,” she said.
But county resident and Tourism Development Council member Kyle Holley said it is time to move forward. He said the market is much bigger than the number of individuals commenting on Facebook.
“Appropriate chastisement has occurred. I am sure commissioner Williamson will sort of come back into the fold, but I think we have to commit to the message and the research that was given. Then we have to be prepared to mark and measure it,” he said.
Others such as Matt Dimmer of Navarre, outright supported the commissioner’s decision. Dimmer said “Florida’s most relaxing place” does not accurately reflect the area and thanked the commissioner.
The tourism marketing agency tasked with the rebranding and the sign design, Paradise Advertising, was present at the meeting but chose not to comment.
The board has decided to stick with their original vote to install the new signs when they are delivered this week, but Williamson suggested that further discussion of bringing back the old signs might be needed.
Sims said the BBC will “give them back to the people” not the county.
As seen in the June 8 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.