The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee has issued subpoenas for two Okaloosa County commissioners and the president of The Zimmerman Agency to appear at its March 4 meeting in Tallahassee.
The subpoenas for Commission Chairman Don Amunds, Commissioner Wayne Harris and Curtis Zimmerman were issued Wednesday. It was not clear Thursday whether they had been served.
The Auditing Committee plans to question Amunds, Harris and Zimmerman, or another representative of his company, about findings in the auditor general’s recent audit of the County Commission and the Tourist Development Council. They also are expected to answer questions about former TDC head Mark Bellinger’s illegal and unauthorized expenditures from 2010 to 2012.
“I plan to honor the subpoena,” said Harris, who is being represented by Tallahassee lawyer Ronald Meyer.
Amunds and Zimmerman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Zimmerman Agency of Tallahassee is a marketing and advertising firm that held a lucrative contract with the TDC for about 20 years.
The state’s Auditing Committee, made up of six state representatives and five state senators, oversees the Auditor General’s Office.
In addition to the three subpoenas, the committee has sent letters to 10 people requesting they voluntarily appear before the committee March 4. Those people include County Administrator Jim Curry, County Attorney John Dowd, County Clerk of Court Don Howard, former TDC attorney Steve Hall and Lewis Communications Vice President Ellen Wingard.
Lewis Communications, based in Mobile, Ala., is the advertising firm that issued the check Bellinger used to buy his $747,000 home in Destin. The four-bedroom home was paid for with money from a BP oil spill grant.
The Auditing Committee had planned to subpoena Lewis Communications, but changed that plan because it would have taken too long to file the subpoena through the Alabama court system, said George Levesque, general counsel for the Florida Senate.
Attorney Gus Fontenot of Mobile, who represents Lewis Communications, said Thursday he is not sure if Wingard or another company representative will attend the committee meeting.
Also included on the committee’s list are Warren Gourley, chairman of the TDC; Bobby Nabors, a Fort Walton Beach City Councilman and TDC member; and former TDC members Kathy Houchins, Patricia Hardiman and Nick Nicholson.
Gourley, Nicholson and Houchins said they are willing to appear.
“I responded that I’ll absolutely be there,” Houchins said. “I will welcome the opportunity to answer their questions and lend them my opinion if they ask for it, and maybe even if they don’t ask for it.”
Houchins is one of four TDC members who were asked to resign Feb. 5 by county commissioners. She opposed stepping down but complied because she said she wants the county to move past the controversy.
Gourley has refused to resign. He said he welcomes the chance to talk with the Auditing Committee.
“I don’t believe they understand how (the TDC) was structured,” he said. “We were volunteers. We did not sign checks. We did not see invoices.”
Nabors said he is “still working out the details” of whether he will attend the March 4 meeting.
“What I want to avoid is going over there and sitting all day for nothing,” he said. “If they legitimately want to have a conversation with us, then I’m agreeable to that. … There’s no reason for us to go over there and get politically demonized.”
State Rep. Matt Gaetz does not sit on the Auditing Committee but participated in its Feb. 11 hearing on the TDC scandal. He said he is not sure if he will attend the next meeting.
Gaetz said he doesn’t believe the Auditing Committee will be pleased to hear that Okaloosa County commissioners on Tuesday declined to fire Dowd.
“That would have been an obvious step toward healing and moving forward,” he said.
Gaetz has pushed for Dowd’s removal at previous meetings.
“Every day that John Dowd continues to be employed by the county is a day that taxpayers have to be concerned,” he said.
Gaetz said Dowd provided legal opinions and helped draft contracts with Zimmerman and Lewis that “subjected taxpayers to untold liability.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.