Tempers flare during tourism meeting

Frustrations ignited over Commissioner Rob Williamson’s suspension of county funding for the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center at the July 8 south end tourist development committee (SETDC) meeting.

At one point Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Director Julie Morgan stood up and threatened to walk out following comments made by attendee T.J. Goulet, a representative of The Club at Hidden Creek.

Goulet was concerned that Williamson was “punishing” the turtle center by moving June 11 to suspend three sources of county funds for the project until financial questions could be addressed.

Ultimately it was discovered county staff was responsible for “most” of the financial issues, and

the board of county commissioners July 9 moved to reinstate funding for one of the center’s three projects.

“By his own admission in the (July 6 commission) meeting they did nothing wrong,” Goulet said of the center, adding, “What if Rob decides to screw us?”

Tourist Development Council (TDC) appointee Laurie Gallup said Williamson may not have been aware the SETDC had “rallied” around the three projects for which he pushed to suspend county funds.

Gallup asked attendees to keep their eyes on the money which had been allocated for Navarre.

“Navarre just finally started getting a little of what it deserves, and it’s getting snatched back from us,” Gallup said, pointing out Navarre generates the bulk of county bed tax revenues.

Currently the turtle center’s two other allocations approved by the TDC and commissioners remain in limbo until center representatives and county staff can determine the funding will be used in accordance with state statutes related to the expenditure of bed taxes.

Gallup encouraged attendees to reach out to county commissioners about the matter and attend the upcoming TDC meeting. “It would really help if everyone could be here because we’re seeing some radical changes in our TDC,” Gallup said.

The TDC meeting scheduled for July 15 has been canceled. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 19.

Williamson did not respond to a request for comment.

As seen in the July 16 edition of Navarre Press. Subscribe online here.

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