Ugly feud escalates between commissioner and turtle center

The on-going battle between Commissioner Rob Williamson and the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center turned ugly July 6, resulting in an impasse – so Commissioner Lane Lynchard stepped in to attempt a resolution by Thursday.

Williamson made a surprise move June 11, suspending all county funding for the center until accounting and budget questions could be addressed. But it was later discovered “most” of the problems were the result of county staff errors related to three sources of county funds for the project.

“It would seem the main issue keeping us from having a clear accounting on this project is the inability of our county staff to match up checks issued from the county with invoices submitted from the turtle center,” Williamson said in a June 16 email to County Administrator Hunter Walker.

Walker in a July 3 memo to commissioners apologized for any delay his staff caused the turtle center, explaining he and County Budget Director Jayne Bell were “responsible and accountable.” Walker suggested they meet with Williamson and the board’s finance department to “ensure this level of confusion never happens again.”

The memo stated an adjusting budget amendment in the amount of $7,659 will correct a budget amendment which was “incorrectly” used. “With the adjusting budget amendment mentioned above there remains $7,488 of the $165,000 committed for this project,” Walker said.

“Most of the mistakes that were made were internal,” Williamson admitted during Monday’s committee meeting. However, he refused to reinstate county funding, engaging instead in a lengthy and contentious series of accusations with center representatives.

“We feel like we’re getting kicked under the table because we’ve done no wrong. Every dollar that we’ve spent has been accounted for,” Henry Tyler, a center volunteer said.

Cathy Holmes, project director for the center, confronted Williamson about “condescending” emails and “intimidating” and “threatening” communication from him.

Williamson challenged her assertion, stating his communication never rose to the point of being threatening.

However Holmes then read aloud a July 25 email from Cinnamon Holderman, president of the center, to its board of directors.

“He said if we came to the (commission) meeting on June 22 it may not go good for the turtle center. He strongly recommended that Cathy and Henry not attend until we could meet ‘off the record’ to resolve this,” Holderman said, adding, “He has been adversarial, accusatory and threatening in every attempt to communicate with any of us. His actions are those of a playground bully.”

Holderman’s email went on to state the group “had no choice” but to make the June 22 presentation to “tell our side” to the other commissioners. “He told me I was rolling the dice,” she said.

During Monday’s meeting Williamson again asked to meet with the group privately and pledged to repair the damaged relationship, but Holmes rejected such a meeting, pointing out that a previously scheduled June 23 meeting had been canceled without center representatives being notified.

“If my fellow commissioners feel (reinstating funds) is something they want to do I understand, but I can’t work with people I don’t trust,” Williamson said.

Lynchard said he wanted to reach out to the center to see if a resolution was possibly so action on the matter could be taken during today’s commission meeting.

As seen in the July 9 edition of Navarre Press. Subscribe online here.

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