Some Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council members on Wednesday continued to criticize the county’s call for their resignations.
TDC Chairman Warren Gourley, who has not yet resigned his seat, said county commissioners are placing blame on a panel of volunteers who “do not actually authorize anything.”
He said the commissioners’ decision is a result of the tough questions Northwest Florida lawmakers asked county officials at a recent delegation meeting.
“The delegation asked some pointed questions there: ‘Who have you fired?’ ” Gourley said. “So far, the county hasn’t done anything but deflect. And that’s what this is, a deflection.”
TDC members Patricia Hardiman and Nick Nicholson already have submitted their resignations.
“I can understand the county wanting a new beginning,” Nicholson said.
It’s important to remember that the “TDC is strictly an advisory board,” he added.
“We didn’t approve any invoices and we didn't approve any payments,” Nicholson said.
He said he believes that the people who were responsible for the scandal eventually will be held accountable.
The TDC resignations come nine months after officials discovered an extensive fraud scheme put in place by former TDC head Mark Bellinger. They are part of a broader plan approved by commissioners earlier in the week.
The plan calls for:
- A litigation strategy for targeting companies or individuals who might have received county bed tax or BP grant funds improperly;
- Further review of TDC policies and procedures;
- A compliance officer who will work at the TDC to ensure bed tax money is being spent according to county ordinances and state law;
- A mandatory training program for all members of county volunteer boards; and
- Sending a request to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office to provide access to the materials obtained during its criminal investigation into the TDC scandal.
Commissioners will present the plan to state lawmakers Monday when they appear before the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in Tallahassee to answer questions about the mismanagement of public funds. The committee requested that commissioners and TDC members who served during Bellinger’s tenure attend the meeting.
CountyAdministratorJim Curry said the entire board plans to be there. That includes Commissioners Kelley Windes and Nathan Boyles, who were not on the board at the time of the scandal.
Windes said it’s in the best interest of the county for all commissioners to appear.
“I’m a boat captain and when the boat is taking on water, everyone stands on deck,” he said.
It’s unclear whether any TDC member will attend the committee meeting.
Senate President Don Gaetz and Rep. Matt Gaetz said Wednesday they were pleased to hear that the Auditing Committee had summoned officials to discuss the TDC scandal. Don Gaetz — to whom the Auditing Committee reports — said he had not instructed the committee to request county officials’ presence.
Both Gaetzes praised the decision after expressing dissatisfaction with the county’s response to the scandal at a legislative delegation meeting they hosted Jan. 30.
“It’s somewhat disingenuous for the commissioners to trot out Commissioner Boyles as the face of the county’s response to the TDC problems,” Matt Gaetz said of that meeting.
He accused County Commission Chairman Don Amunds and Vice Chairman Dave Parisot of “hiding under a rock.”
Don Gaetz said many members of the Auditing Committee “have expressed their shock and disappointment” at what has happened.
“The Legislature trusts county government to properly manage revenue-sharing funds to the county from the state,” he said. “We have to make sure counties are operating in an ethical manner.”
Matt Gaetz said the committee’s request could signal an even deeper inquiry of county finances.
“It’s my belief that the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee may choose to audit the whole county,” he said.
Matt Gaetz said he is not sure if he will attend Monday’s committee meeting.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.