An open letter to the commissioners

As you all are aware, Commissioner Rob Williamson removed the temporary Navarre Beach entrance sign (Hwy 98/Navarre Beach Causeway) under the cover of night on May 25. After being interviewed by Channel 3 News, he recorded and posted online his justification for his actions. The following is a breakdown of those comments, in part, followed by my own thoughts. I have attached the audio so each of you can listen for yourselves, and so there can be no accusation that I inaccurately wrote what he said.

“After noticing social media outrage last night, I thought it was a little different than folks complaining, not happy with new logo, new brand or slogan, really that wasn’t it…” Many comments contradict this statement: “Everyone should totally feel relaxed by that slogan after navigating 98… good lord what an awful slogan;” “Sorry worst decision ever, “BEST KEPT SECRET” was best kept beach!!;” “Florida’s most boring slogan,” “This is what happens when county makes decisions for us without asking our opinion. The new sign is bland and unimaginative. Ugh. Such a waste [of] money, our money!”

“It was overwhelming, obvious to me, can’t speak for other leaders…”: Yet, this is exactly what he did. As the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, when he acted and when he spoke, he acted on behalf of and spoke for each of you and the county.

“Yes, I do read all the posts, close to 600 now – this isn’t just a sign, more than a sign, this is to many people a symbol of home to them… [they] felt a little disrespected that it was removed.”: The number of comments may have been “close to 600,” but from the time the original comment was posted to the time Williamson removed the sign, there were 62 individuals who posted: 58 were against the sign and slogan; four liked the sign and slogan. Sixty-two individuals are about 0.0018% of Navarre’s population (approximately 34,000) and about 0.00036% of Santa Rosa County’s population (170,497 in 2016)

“[The] Board did approve adding nine new signs in support of tourism rebranding effort… more than a year in progress, meetings with [the] tourist development council, Navarre beach lease holders, beach beautification committee, numerous Facebook updates, public town halls, public meetings as continued to develop, testing with focus groups, that’s how we ended up with slogan…”:  For residents who complained they weren’t asked, as he pointed out, this was a year in the making. Where have these concerned citizens been for the past year?

“What [the] board approved is not what I saw last night… Thin cheap metal temporary sign… as your neighbor and the one you allowed to represent you, [I] felt it was pretty clear it was an embarrassment to you and me and not a good representation to community.”: Of course the temporary sign was not board approved, as it was temporary. As you all know, the permanent sign was damaged in route; the company owner created and delivered a temporary sign, at his expense. The temporary sign was installed so there would be a sign for Memorial Day weekend. The colors, verbiage, slogan and style were Board approved; the only difference was the material. Yes, it was metal, but again, it was temporary, to be there for only one week. County administrative staff made the decision to place the temporary sign and it was the right decision.

“Many of you feel Navarre doesn’t get any respect…  if you want to represent this community better be willing to defend this community, and that means making the decision I did last night…[I] felt like that there were hundreds of you saying what you wanted and what you saw isn’t it, so… that sign has been removed.”: Again, he unilaterally made this decision based on the emotional response of 0.0018% of District 4’s population, and 0.00036% of Santa Rosa County’s population. What message does this send? That when a super-minority complains about something, Williamson has the authority to undo what the Board collectively approved. Taking this position to its logical conclusion, where would it stop?

“I have requested [to the] county administrator that we return the old, original sign, refurbish it…”: Again, by what authority does he have to make this decision; a decision that was never Board approved and is in direct conflict with the Board’s decision to move forward with the new marketing campaign, to include the new signs.

“As much as we want to support [the] new slogan and rebranding…”: He can’t have it both ways. Either he supports the new slogan and rebranding, or he doesn’t. What message will two slogans on different signs send to visitors and residents?

“We also have to have balance there, to make sure we’re respectful of history and landmarks like Welcome to Navarre Beach sign that is more than just a sign…”: The old Navarre Beach welcome sign is about 20 years old, hardly a landmark. How much better it would have been if instead of following the social media outcries of 58 individuals, Williamson could have led. For example, the Navarre Park is scheduled for renovations (Navarre Park master plan); why not determine if the visitors’ center could be expanded to include a section showcasing the history of Navarre with the old Navarre Beach sign as the central display, thus truly respecting the community and the history of Navarre.

“I feel as though that is an easy fix, we can use the new signs when they come…”: How? By arbitrarily placing them on the beach. So entering the causeway there’s one sign with one logo and less than a mile later exiting the causeway (onto beach) there’s another sign with a different logo?  At a time when the beach is being decluttered of signs, two big ones will be installed – to appease a handful of residents?

“Staff put up [the] temporary sign, not wanting to leave it blank for Memorial Day weekend.”: This was the right decision and the role of county administrators. They are responsible for the day-to-day operations of the county and implementation of legally enacted Board policies, not one county commissioner.

“I thought it was better that we have no sign than that one.” Again, (ad nauseam) by what authority does one commissioner have to make this decision? If he felt so strongly that this was the right decision, why did he remove the sign in the cloak of darkness? How easy it would have been for him to contact the county administrator or assistant county administrator Friday morning, to seek their input. Then, if the decision was to remove the sign, county workers could have removed it in the light of day. When one has to do something under the cover of darkness, it is not right.

“When [the] new signs come in, we could place those signs at [the] entrance to parking for Navarre Beach, so no money is wasted… signs can be utilized in good locations…”: It’s a nice sentiment to feel this way, but reality is not a sentiment. The decision to hire a new marketing company, move forward with a new slogan, new signs and marketing campaign, and every decision throughout the process was open and Board approved. Williamson’s decision to remove this sign, and subsequently justify it by claiming the old sign will be put back up and the new signs put elsewhere on Navarre Beach was not the decision of the Board, and it should not be the decision in the future. And his decision was not open, it was under the cover of dark.

“We can support new brand, respect and honor where we came from…” Yes, we can, but that is not what he did when he unilaterally decided to remove the sign in the dead of night. If it was the permanent sign, the 58 people complaining would have still complained. Would he have removed the permanent sign?

“I know that there are some that look to use every opportunity for their own benefit, not for the community, it’s not something I like about this job… when you decide to serve [an] organization… have to make it about the organization first…”: He did not put the organization – Navarre, Santa Rosa County, more importantly the Board of Commissioners – first. He put the emotional response of 58 people first; he put his own political ambition first.

“Some that want to use every opportunity that want to turn something like this, representative… defending you… want to turn that into something that it’s not… [the] nay sayers, [have] been a negative influence on this community for some time will try to tell you what I did last night was wrong…” This is deflection and justification at its basest level. He wasn’t representing or defending Navarre or this county. He acted as a despot when deciding in the dead of night to remove county property. He could have chosen to have the temporary sign removed by doing it rightly and legally. He could have discussed it with the county administrator Friday morning and county staff could’ve removed it in daylight. This is not what he did. He illegally acted. He followed 58 individuals’ emotional reaction. This is not leadership; this is not right; this is not legal. If any citizen had done the same thing for the same reason, there would have been an investigation and when discovered, the citizen charged with theft, at minimum. And chances are quite high Williamson would’ve been leading the charge.

“I would do it again and I wouldn’t hesitate…”: When law ends, tyranny begins (John Locke). In other words, each of you is irrelevant. The process of making decisions in an open and a legal manner is irrelevant. This is far bigger than a sign.  It is about one man using his position as commissioner to usurp the law and the process.

“We need a leader to put Navarre interests ahead of their own, build trust…” Removing a sign in the dead of night is not leadership, it doesn’t build trust and it’s not putting Navarre interests ahead of their own.

“Really appreciate the opportunity you give me to serve and will not apologize for doing so and if there are those out there who want to make hay on that and want to have a look at me moment and try to promote themselves at my expense, bring it on.”: Narcissistic hubris oozes from every word of this sentence. When all else fails, he frames himself as a victim and defender, and those who disagree with his actions as attackers. This is no different than what happens on social media: the four people who expressed support for the new sign were derided and attacked by opponents of the sign. Williamson’s history of attacking those who voice concern or disagree with him has worked for him in the past. He has acted this way toward county staff, constituents and each of you, and has been allowed to get away with this unprofessional childish behavior. If his actions are allowed to go unchecked, there is no rule of law, and it will only worsen. Your silence on this issue will only serve to embolden this type of behavior, and this is not a good precedent to set. As Baron de Montesquieu wrote, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.” He must be held accountable for his actions; at a minimum, he should be removed as Chairman of the Commission.
“See a veteran, thank them.”: As a veteran, I would thank a veteran, but on Memorial Day I remember those who died in service, the true purpose of Memorial Day. I think about my great uncle, Kenneth Knoll, First Lieutenant with the 158th Infantry Regiment, a Bushmaster. He died March 24, 1945 in the Philippines. The Fighting 158th battle cry was, “We shall win or we shall die.” I never had the privilege of personally knowing my Uncle; it was only through pictures, the stories of my Grandma, his sister, and his last written letter home did I know this man. I remember LT Roberto, LTJG Winters, AE2 Wicks and AE3 Saye. I had the honor of serving with these men in HC-5, until their H-46 crashed, immediately killing all four. I remember my friend LCDR Mark Johnson, who was killed when his aircraft crashed during a training flight. He was six months from retiring. Their names are now only remembered by those who knew them and loved them.
Yet, as I remember these honorable men, and so many other men and women who died for our freedom and our Representative Republic, I can’t help but feel a little dismayed. I ask, “Did my family, my friends die so an elected county commissioner can basically say ‘screw you’ to his fellow commissioners; so one person can act illegally and unethically, thereby voiding legal and the well thought out actions of each of you, and him. Is this what they died for?” I pray the answer is “No, this is not the elected despotism they fought and died for.”
“…truth and right are invariably the same in all times and in all places; and reason, pure unbiased reason, perceives them alike in all times and in all places.” John Adams

Yvonne C. Harperrob wi

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