Sea turtle center construction to continue

Despite District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson’s surprise move to suspend county funds for the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, planned construction will continue.

“We were surprised by Commissioner Rob Williamson’s sudden decision to suspend funding,” Cinnamon Holderman, board president, said. “Additionally, we’re taken aback by statements that claim we have been uncooperative.”

Williamson, who proposed the suspension at the June 11 commission meeting,  said he started asking for financial information in December.

“I just wanted to get a clear accounting on what was allocated and how much had been spent,” he said.

Holderman said center officials have routinely met and communicated with Williamson and supplied “all information” related to the funding. She said the financial records he seeks are all generated by and kept within the county’s budget office.

During the meeting, Santa Rosa County Budget Director Jayne Bell said she had the requested information.

“I have answers for you. I can tell you exactly where we are,” she said.

But Williamson continued to push for the suspension, telling commissioners he should be able to get his concerns resolved before the board’s June 22 meeting.

He convinced fellow commissioners to suspend county funding after questioning an expenditure request for $8,135. Williamson said only $7,659 remained in the center’s balance from a $60,000 Tourist Development fund allocation.

However, Bell said the turtle center has two additional sources of county funding and could transfer funds to cover the expense.

She said $8,870 remains from a $165,000 provision of District 4 recreation funds. She said the center also has a balance of more than $12,000 from a $43,915 allotment the center shares with the Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary, although usage of those funds must meet certain criteria related to tourism.

“I don’t want you to in any way think I’m singling them out,” Williamson said, praising the efforts of center director Cathy Holmes. “The passion that Ms.  Holmes brings to this project is definitely something that the community supports.”

Santa Rosa County District 1 Commissioner Jayer Williamson requested center representatives be invited to that meeting.

“I’d also like to hear from them,” he said. “To give them the right to have their side of the story heard.”

The suspension won’t impact planned construction of the center, which is privately funded. Holderman said the commissioner’s action “has no bearing our being able to complete the project.”

The center reports it has been “overwhelmed” by supportive emails, phone calls and text messages in the wake of Williamson’s move.

The next county commission meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m., June 22, at the County Administrative Complex, 6495 Caroline St. A video of the meeting is available at

As seen in the June 18 edition of Navarre Press. Subscribe online here for as little as $38 per year.

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