FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County Administrator Jim Curry and County Attorney John Dowd still had their jobs on Wednesday.
Curry remained employed despite tendering his resignation at Tuesday night’s county commission meeting. Dowd held onto his post despite Commissioner Kelly Windes’ attempt to fire him.
The tension-filled, seven-hour meeting was the latest example of county officials seeking to satisfy critics calling for accountability in the wake of the Mark Bellinger fraud scandal.
The board voted unanimously to reject Curry’s resignation, which was offered just before 9 p.m. during a discussion about the county’s response to the scandal.
“The theft of public funds to purchase a house, a car and other items was beyond comprehension,” Curry said in a prepared statement. “In retrospect, perhaps I should have been better prepared for such, especially after so many other criminal revelations involving other constitutional offices.”
He said he regretted not recognizing the circumstances under which the Tourist Development Council was operating and the conditions “that enabled a crook to steal from the public.”
“I also was at times a part of the approval process that allowed these transactions to take place, and I do not take that responsibility lightly,” Curry said. “I regret that perhaps I should have recognized and acted earlier to prevent the crimes that Mark Bellinger perpetrated upon our community.”
All five commissioners voiced support for Curry and asked him to stay at his post for another 60 days. He already is scheduled to retire sometime between May and October.
Commissioner Wayne Harris said Curry and the TDC members are “not guilty of anything other than being hoodwinked by a criminal.”
“I think it’s appalling that people are asking for resignations,” Harris said. “Accepting his resignation at this time would be a travesty, and I won’t accept it.”
Dowd did not have the same across-the-board support. His contract came under fire a few minutes before the meeting adjourned at 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Windes told the board he had serious concerns about Dowd continuing as the county’s attorney in the wake of the TDC scandal. He said Dowd’s oversight and legal advice on various department matters, contracts and leases have fallen short.
“I believe the people would be best served by starting over with a new face and reset of our legal representation,” he said.
Windes’ comments echoed those of state Rep. Matt Gaetz and Senate President Don Gaetz, who have criticized county officials for keeping the county attorney and not having already fired employees who approved Bellinger’s questionable purchases.
Windes said “new faces, time and accountability … will make Okaloosa proud again.”
“So having said that, Mr. Dowd, do you have any interest in following Mr. Curry’s lead and stepping down?” Windes asked.
“No sir," Dowd answered.
He declined to comment further during the meeting.
Windes then pushed for the board to provide Dowd with his contract’s required 90-day notice of termination, but that proposal was voted down 3-2.
Windes and Commissioner Dave Parisot voted to fire Dowd. Harris, Commission Chairman Don Amunds and Commissioner Nathan Boyles were opposed.
Parisot said he supported firing Dowd for reasons unrelated to the TDC scandal. He said he’s had concerns about the quality of some of the legal work Dowd has provided the county, specifically contracts that have required major changes.
Harris disagreed, and reminded Parisot that he isn’t a lawyer.
“With the exception of one commissioner up here, I didn’t know we all had law degrees and know the peculiarities of contracts and legal issues,” Harris quipped.
Sounding frustrated, Windes interrupted, “C’mon, Wayne, this is common sense.”
“No, no, I don’t agree with you at all,” Harris fired back.
“Well, you can vote against me,” Windes said.
“Well, I intend to,” Harris answered.
“That’s fine,” Windes said.
Harris argued that Dowd has done “a very good job” and “has always been there with the right answers.”
Boyles prefaced his vote with support for Dowd, adding that he planned to meet with Dowd to discuss his work for the county.
“I’m not going to vote to terminate John Dowd tonight,” Boyles said. “It’s 15 minutes to 1 a.m., and we’ve been at this for seven hours.”
He said Okaloosa County has changed tremendously since Dowd took his job and the county is “no longer a one-attorney county.”
Boyles said the county must look at restructuring its legal representation in the near future.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.