Okaloosa County Commissioner Wayne Harris has hired a Tallahassee attorney to represent him before the state’s Joint Legislative Auditing Committee next week.
The Auditing Committee voted Monday to subpoena Harris when he didn’t attend a hearing at which he and other commissioners had been asked to appear.
“I was not there (Monday) on the advice of my attorney,” he said.
Harris said he plans to consult with his lawyer, Ronald Meyer, to determine whether he will respond to the committee’s subpoena. He declined to make other comments on the Auditing Committee’s actions.
Several current and former Tourist Development Council members also face subpoenas. None of them attended Monday’s hearing despite being asked to by the Auditing Committee.
The promise of subpoenas didn’t sit well with TDC Chairman Warren Gourley or former TDC chairwoman Kathy Houchins. They told media outlets Tuesday at Seacrest Condominiums on Okaloosa Island that they are being unfairly blamed for the misuse of public money under Mark Bellinger, who led the TDC from May 2010 to May 2012.
Gourley and Houchins said they do not plan to hire attorneys and have no problem going to Tallahassee to testify before the Auditing Committee.
“I’d be more than happy to testify,” Houchins said. “I would have been there (Monday), but ... I was told there was no reason to go to a public flogging.”
Houchins said she is angry that TDC members are being held accountable for Bellinger’s thefts when no county employees have been disciplined in connection with the fraud scheme.
The TDC was an advisory panel that didn’t have the authority to sign checks and never saw invoices for Bellinger’s purchases, she said.
“It was all processed through the Clerk of Court,” Houchins said. “Whoever over there who has been assigned that authority should be gone or held accountable.”
Fort Walton Beach City Councilman Bobby Nabors, who has served on the TDC for almost four years, shared Houchins’ frustration.
He said he didn’t attend the Auditing Committee’s hearing because he wasn’t “directly asked” to go.
“No one from the state ever contacted me and said, ‘Hey, Bobby, we want you to come,’ ” Nabors said Monday evening. “I heard it was just going to be a lot of political grandstanding.”
He said the committee’s decision to subpoena TDC members doesn’t make sense.
“They’re subpoenaing the volunteers who met once a month or once a quarter,” Nabors said. “But what about the full-time employees who spent 40 to 60 hours a week working hand in hand with Mark Bellinger?”
Nabors said he would have legal representation as a city councilman and would testify before the committee if subpoenaed.
The Auditing Committee, which is made up of six state representatives and five senators, questioned county officials about the TDC scandal for more than two hours Monday.
The committee also ordered a countywide audit of Okaloosa County’s finances as well as the Clerk of Court’s office.
Houchins and other TDC members said they never approved Bellinger’s illegal or unauthorized expenditures.
“Yet we’re the only ones who are asked to resign,” Houchins said. “Isn’t that amazing?”
County commissioners requested the resignations of the county-appointed TDC members on Feb. 5. The nine-member board is comprised of six county-appointed seats. a County Commission liaison and two seats appointed by the Destin and Fort Walton Beach City Councils.
Two of the county-appointed seats were vacant. The other four were held by Houchins, Gourley, Nick Nicholson and Patricia Hardiman.
Houchins, Nicholson and Hardiman have resigned. Gourley, who owns Venus and Seacrest condominiums on the island, has refused to step down.
“There’s no reason for me to resign or the other (members),” Gourley said. “We did nothing wrong but contribute our time and our talents.”
County Administrator Jim Curry said Tuesday he will notify county commissioners of Gourley’s decision. The board will then have to decide whether to remove him from office, he said.
Tim Edwards and Lino Maldonado, two TDC members who resigned before the county’s Feb. 5 request, still could be subpoenaed by state lawmakers.
The Auditing Committee said it would finalize a list Wednesday of county officials and employees to be subpoenaed to appear in Tallahassee.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.