‘We can’t be transparent’: Water system tight lipped

Holley Navarre Water System (HNWS) once again tightened the reins on the release of information Friday as the board of directors got confrontational on political statements in an unannounced special meeting.

The arguments and board actions all revolved around a motion by James Calkins during the April 18 regular meeting to make a statement of support for reopening the Navarre Pass.

While board president Bien May refused to place the item on the agenda during the board meeting citing the military base’s lack of support, Calkins made a motion on the item during the meeting anyway.

“Based on the economic benefits, increased job growth, cleaning up our dirty [Santa Rosa] Sound, improving our environment and more revenue for Holley Navarre Water System, I make a motion for Holley Navarre Water System to endorse and encourage the reopening of the Navarre Pass,” he said.

The motion was seconded, but May repeatedly refused to acknowledge the motion as valid. When it did pass the vote was three to two.

The board voted in October that all political endorsements and statements should be approved by a super majority vote, meaning two-thirds of the board members present.

The motion met that requirement, but it did not stand for long. The special meeting was called three days later and the board voted to amend their statement to only support the pass if the military mission was unaffected.

Among the other actions in the special meeting that followed were three tightening of the lips:

– A restriction on board members requesting video of meetings to have to receive board approval.

– A restriction of unauthorized statements to media from board members.

– A restriction on political endorsements that would not allow them from board members in regards to the HNWS board.

As for the first item, board member Robert Coley said it would be a violation of his privacy to have video released of what he said and did while in the publicly noticed meetings of the board of directors.

“Maybe I didn’t get my hair cut that day,” he said.

Board Attorney Mike Tidwell indicated that privacy would not be a reasonable argument for the restriction considering the roughly 13,000 members of HNWS were invited to attend the meetings.

On the topic of press releases, Coley defined a press release as any statement made to members of the press. May said it comes down to any statement made as a representative of HNWS should have to be approved by the board.

Calkins questioned how the action, directed at statements he had previously made to media, was not a violation of his first amendment right of freedom of speech and pointed out that he told the truth.

The board passed all three of the items.

Board member Ricki DeSantis said the board was embarrassing themselves by having a public discussion of the disagreement.

“Airing out our dirty laundry in this manner is further damaging trust,” DeSantis said. “Our image is already not the best.”

But May said it was important to continue discussion of the issue now.

“Outside we can’t be transparent. Right now we are being transparent, unfortunately,” he said.

Happy about it or not the transparency of the meeting was less than clear since no public notice was made.

According to Florida statute 617.0822 (2) specially called meetings of a board of directors should be publicly noticed at least two days in advance.
The HNWS meeting had no public notice, but one member of the utility, Tamara Fountain, did attend. She questioned why the board was going back on the decision made earlier that week to support the reopening of the pass if it had been passed by a super majority vote.

Her questions remain largely unanswered.

Featured in the April 27 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.

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