Florida statute may mire Williamson hire

Williamson was offered the contract to run the utility without the position being advertised said  board member Daryl Lynchard. 

Ex-District 4 County Commissioner Rob Williamson was hired as Holley-Navarre Water System’s CEO Friday according to General Manager Paul Gardner, but Florida statutes may limit his ability to carry out the duties of that job.

Williamson was offered the contract to run the utility without the position being advertised said  board member Daryl Lynchard.

“I think the intention was to get him signed on contract and started before the public was made aware,” he said.

Since Lynchard made public comment on the issue of Williamson’s hiring, the rest of board has not updated him on the status of the hire, he said.

Lynchard said last week HNWS attorney Keith Kilpatrick had been instructed to draw up documents for a two-year contract for Williamson at a salary of $100,000 annually with full benefits.

He said he opposed Williamson’s hire from the beginning.

Williamson is filling the position being vacated by Gardner, who announced he is retiring effective Dec. 31.   His first day on the job will be Dec. 1 Lynchard said.

But Florida law may mean Williamson’s time as a county commissioner could limit his ability to fulfill the requirements of managing the water system.

Under Florida Statute 112.313 subsection (14), any person who has been elected to a county position “may not personally represent another person or entity for compensation before the government body or agency of which the person was an officer for a period of 2 years after vacating that office.”

The law goes on to specifically reference former county commissioners as falling under the restriction.

Tampa business lawyer Jim McGuire said that after reviewing the statute and associated case law, he believes Williamson’s proposed work for the water system would fall squarely under this statute.

“It would seem to be a classic example because there is no question he was a county commissioner, and if he is appearing before (the Board of County Commissioners) on behalf of the water system, that applies,” he said. “That doesn’t mean he could not take the job.”

McGuire said in that regard, the water system would have to designate a different person to handle any issues with Santa Rosa County. That would include the future of a potential rapid infiltration basin system at Eglin, the rerouting of HNWS effluent for reuse in Gulf Breeze, the possible expansion of sewer and septic-conversion projects currently up for RESTORE funding, the possible move of Navarre Beach utilities under HNWS and other issues.

Any agreements regarding use of county right of way for utility infrastructure would also be off-limits for Williamson.

McGuire also said the law prohibits any communications with county officials by Williamson on behalf of the water system or any third party for that matter.

Statute 112.312 defines “represent” as “actual physical attendance on behalf of a client in an agency proceeding, the writing of letters or filing of documents on behalf of a client, and personal communications made with the officers or employees of any agency on behalf of a client.”

In essence, Williamson would be prohibited from sending emails, making phone calls or filing paperwork on the water system’s behalf with Santa Rosa County.

“It appears to me he is not even able to email anybody, let alone represent us to the county commissioners or the Gulf Consortium,” Lynchard said. “That is one of the main parts that we made that position for.”

Lynchard said he has brought the statute to the attention of his fellow HNWS board members but has not received any response.

“We are going to have to hire someone to do the job that we hired Williamson to do,” Lynchard said of all the restrictions placed by the law.

HNWS board President Will Goulet declined to comment on the hire.

Calls to Williamson were not returned by press time.

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