Holley-Navarre Water updates election protocol
By Jamie Gentry
The election of two members to the Holley-Navarre Water System (HNWS) board of directors will be held Jan. 17, and the rules regarding how to vote have changed. The 2015 and 2016 elections led to accusations of candidates and even HNWS employees manipulating proxies. The addition of absentee ballots and PIN numbers is the utility’s answer to correcting that.
Polls will open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. in the HNWS boardroom at 8574 Turkey Bluff Road. Only those holding an account with HNWS will be allowed to vote. Results of the election will be announced the night of the election.
“The board calls to order at 7 a.m. They will go to recess and the voting will begin. Then at 7 p.m. they call the meeting back to order and the results will be read,” HNWS General Manager Paul Gardner said.
After a handful of community members requested changes, the voting method changed for this year’s election he said.
In addition to voting in person, members can now cast their ballots by absentee ballot.
An absentee ballot allows the account holder to cast their ballot before the day of the election. Absentee ballots must be requested after Jan. 3 by calling the HNWS office at 850-939-2427 and following the voice prompts.
If the account holder chooses not to vote, they can allow someone to cast a ballot in their stead as a proxy. This person will have to fill out a proxy form that requires the account number (used as a PIN) and a valid phone number to be allowed to vote.
“The PIN is the same account number they use to pay their bill each month,” Gardner said.
He explained that individuals expressed concern over abuse of the proxy system last year, so the PIN was added.
“There was some concern from that the proxies were being misused. There was no proof of that, but they formed an election committee and invited public participation,” he said. “The board decided to use the PIN to make sure the proxies were being used by the people they were intended for.”
Use of a proxy form means the account holder gives their proxy the right to choose whichever candidates they feel are best.
All proxy and absentee ballots must be submitted no later than Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. to be counted.
If both an absentee ballot and proxy ballot are filled out, the absentee ballot will supersede the proxy.
The Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections office will oversee the election. Voting booths will be set up in the same way they are setup in general elections and a representative with the county election’s office will be present.
Candidates for Holley Navarre Water board talk rates, transparency
By Jamie Gentry
Holley Navarre Water System will hold an election for two of the seven seats on its board of directors Jan. 17.
Four candidates have thrown their hat into the ring for the election: incumbent Brian Kelly, Ricki DeSantis, Shane Kahl and George “Geo” Mayer.
Candidates must be an HNWS member, reside within the franchise area, not have been convicted of a felony and have at least 25 endorsements by HNWS members.
If elected, the new directors will face members disgruntled by last year’s 17.5 percent rate increase. They will also make final decisions regarding the possible absorption of Navarre Beach Water System and redistribution of effluent to potential facilities on Eglin Air Force Base and near Williams Creek.
Those with a Holley Navarre Water System account in their name can cast their ballot Jan. 17, between 7:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the utility’s main office at 8574 Turkey Bluff Road in Navarre.
Proxy ballots mailed to the residents of utility members can be filled out to allow someone to cast a ballot on behalf of the account holder with a personal pin number.. Absentee ballots can be requested starting Jan. 3. The results will be announced at the end of polling at the start of the board of directors’ regular meeting.
We asked each candidate the following set of questions:
1. Why serve on the board, and what is the biggest challenge the board faces?
2. What experience do you bring to the board?
3. How important is it that the board maintains transparency with members? How do you intend to insure transparency and accountability?
4. In light of the 17.5 percent increase to rates last year, are you in favor of any additional rate increases?
5. What is your stance regarding Holley-Navarre’s acquisition of Navarre Beach Water System?
Address: 7616 Chablis Circle
Occupation: Investment banker with Hallmark Capital Partners
- I have so many years in the finance business doing due diligence and building companies from the ground up, and also looking at it from top down. You know it’s a beautiful town. It has a lot of room for growth, but I think if we make it attractive for a business coming in from a water perspective and also get the appropriate regulatory from Milton, we can attract some business, and then I come in with my private equity guys who can bring money and build the town even further with millions and millions of dollars in projects. There were some older issues with the board. Just some things that weren’t ran as efficient as possible. I think a lot of those are starting to get worked out.
- Recognizing where the town is and seeing it improve is the value I can bring and I have brought to the table. I have 27 years of high-level finance experience working at Oppenheimer, Wachovia and UBS, one of the largest investment banks in the world, at a very senior level. That type of global environment bringing it down to Main Street has value in itself.
- I was influential in getting a lot of stuff on elections more transparent with the pin number and everything like that so it wasn’t just a proxy, so people didn’t feel like it was a fixed system. I think having a real firm path to the website is really the window to the water board. We need to make it more user-friendly and there are some things we still have to upgrade and update. We are on that path. It just doesn’t happen overnight.
- No, unless it was a crisis or something catastrophic like an act of God, I would not be for that. In fact, they initially said they wanted a 25 percent increase and I was firmly against it. I said there was no way. We have to tighten our budget up and figure a different way.
- I am for it. The numbers just have to work. We can’t have it offset the costs to the membership. It has to be a win-win for everyone, and if it’s not a win-win we have to back away from the deal.
Address: 8224 Pompano Street
- DeSantis said he wants to serve on the board due to his experience as mentioned in question 2.
- My 16 years in executive and administrative professional experience in budgeting, financial reporting and dealing with administrative management serves as a testimony. My expertise includes but is not limited to strategic planning, human resource law and management, IP system development and applications, trademark agreements involving royalties and negotiating million dollar contracts. I have experience in financial reporting to the U.S. Congress, audit committees, finance committees and board of directors. I also have experience providing an in-depth understanding of all variables effecting industries today. I am adept at future cash flow and budget projection analysis, marketing, executive decision-making, facility management, payroll and benefits planning, business continuity planning and social perceptiveness. I previously served on a board of directors as treasurer and also as a trustee of employer/employee pensions for Independent Living which is a national organization for the disabled.
- I eat and breathe that. In every nongovernment organization, every public utility and any and every entity that touches the public, its mission statement should emphasize transparency and accountability. If they are meeting that mission, they will be more than happy to share because they will have nothing to hide. It’s vitally important to me.
- I have always been an advocate on behalf of the community. These things, as long as you have the accountability and transparency, they don’t become issues. As long as you have that transparency, people understand the issues behind these changes. You have to have responsible, long term vision that benefits the community. It all comes back to trust. As a frugal conservative, I believe increases are always a last resort. You don’t throw increases out there until you have looked at internal operations.
- At this time in its early stages I would have to reserve comment. I have not had the chance to assess that to form an opinion. I don’t think any of us have enough information in regards to that matter. I want to do my due diligence before making that assessment. I can say it’s an important issue. It will obviously be a priority.
Address: 2775 Avenida De Soto
Occupation: Retired Air Force and owner of Kahl Kreations Metal Fabrications
- 1. I wanted to join the board because I am kind of a third party. I there are some people on their now that have their own agendas that they are trying to push. I would be a good balance against that. Also it is a good opportunity for community outreach and to get more involved in the community.
- I have seven years of military experience. I served in the Air Force. I have been running my own business since September 2013.
- I think it’s very important that there be transparency because the entire community is effect by the decisions the board makes. Everything discussed in meeting should get posted online. I know it’s already recorded, but we need to get the transcripts posted online so people have access to it.
- I would have to look more into that one. I need to look at the numbers. There is a lot that goes into a business buying another business.
George “Geo” Mayer
Address: 6931 Turnberry Circle
Occupation: Retired for 35 years, engineer, developer and contractor
- I’m relatively new to the community. I have been here for about three years now, and I very much have strong feelings of participating and giving back. I always have where I have lived before, so this was of interest to me.
- I built water treatment plants and pipe lines and all sorts of sewage treatment plants, all of the things they are in business with.
- I am a strong believer in transparency and I don’t think the board has been very mindful of that in the past. They certainly have implemented a lot of tools to have great transparency but other than providing the tools, they don’t produce like I know we transcribe all the minutes, but the minutes are not available. We have all this audio visual equipment, but it’s not available. I don’t think that’s appropriate.
- No. I understand rate increases, and I have never been opposed to fighting for rate increases when I felt they were necessary. I am a strong business person with pretty decisive business background. I know when to cut prices and when to raise them and whatever you have to do to survive. I do say in spite of a number of problems in the past the subscribers here, the rate payers, it’s the lowest water bills I have ever encountered in all the places I’ve lived in my life.
- I have no position on that because I really don’t know understand the issues or the background on it or what is involved there. I know that it has been a topic of discussion, but I don’t think anything formal has been done about it to my knowledge. In short, if it’s a money-making venture I am for it.