Thread: BMBCA letter about BCC ethics
BMBCA letter about BCC ethics
The BMBCA has been concerned for some time about ethics in Walton County government. We’ve written about this a number of times including in the 1/2/06 and 8/7/06 Board Reports and we have brought this issue to some of our commissioners. After Commissioner Brannon was found guilty on 8/26/06 of two counts in an elections investigation by the Florida Elections Commission we talked to Commissioner Jones about why the BCC did not take action to send the signal that this type of behavior would not be tolerated in this county. His response was to ask what good would it do. We said we felt staying quit on the matter sent the wrong signal to employees and to citizens of the county. What the BCC did instead was to elect Brannon chairman of the BCC despite the fact that he was under investigation at the time. He was later fined $2,000 and some of his supporters were fined $15,000. We wonder what kind of message electing him to the position of chairman while he was under investigation sent to the community?
Next Commissioner Ro Cuchens voted, as a BCC member, on issues that he later benefited from as a private contractor. However on 10/10/06 the Florida Ethics Commission found there was no conflict between his votes and how he benefited. Cuchens was using the dark red sand in the construction of the Blue Mountain Beach sea walls. As a commissioner was his allegiance to build walls that were as inexpensive as possible (dark sand is cheaper than white sand) or to protect our special white sandy beaches? This importation of red sand was finally stopped by the Walton County Planning Department. In addition it appears some of the seawalls he built in the county were constructed too far from the homes they were meant to protect, well out onto county property, as much as 40 feet onto our property in some cases. It is still not clear what the county is going to do about this issue.
Recently it has come to light that Commissioner Cuchens had submitted two letters to DEP, written on BCC stationery, saying a wooden seawall built in the eastern part of the county without proper permits was in fact not in violation of county codes. This was not true and he had no authority to write those letters. The county has written a letter to DEP, which in essence rescinds Commissioner Cuchens’ letters. In the event you missed these stories or that you live out of the county, recent newspapers articles from the Beach Breeze and the Walton Sun are attached. Be sure to open the attachments in order to read both articles in their entirety. Just looking at what is shown below will not provide you with complete stories.
It has not yet been proven who built this latest seawall, which could be as much as 220 feet long, but it is a wooden seawall of the type Commissioner Cuchens builds. Whether he built the wall or not he had no authority to write the two letters defending the wall. As one commissioner said, “What was he thinking?” All the seawalls that the county issued permits for were issued under an emergency permit in order to allow beachfront property owners to protect their homes during last years hurricane season. The county was only authorized to issue these permits for a specific period of time.
The DEP notified county attorney David Hallman about the letters and according to a Walton County commissioner Hallman failed to notify the other commissioners what Cuchens had done. Hallman has since submitted his resignation but it is not clear why he has resigned. According to the Beach Breeze, engineer Terry Anderson says he was hired post-construction when the property owner enlisted him to apply for the after-the-fact permit. Of course that raises the issue as to who was the engineer in the building of the wall. Anderson has worked with Cuchens on some of his other seawalls.
In May 2006 code enforcement officers cited the owner of a deck that had been built on Eastern Lake behind the Old Florida Fish House & Bar. This has just recently come to light. We are told Cuchens’ Choctawhatchee Bay Piling and Dock Company built the deck. According to county records the deck violated a number of laws. It violates the shoreline protect zone, there was no building permit issued for the structure and construction of the deck was an expansion of a none conforming use, something that is not allowed. It appears that if Cuchens did build this deck he violated the law he was charged to uphold.
After these latest apparent lapses of ethics on the part of Commissioner Cuchens we urged Commissioner Pridgen to step up and call for some kind of action, either in the form of starting an investigation or in directing Walton County Administrator Ronnie Bell to address the public / press as to what is going on and where the county stands on ethics and this type of behavior on the part of any elected official or county employee. It just seems silence on the part of the county is not the course they should be taking. He listened to us but was non-committal. What does this county think about the importance of high ethical standards?
Cuchens did not run for reelection this year. We are told Commissioner Cuchens last BCC meeting will be next Tuesday 11/14/06. We would like to think this would end ethics issues in the county but who knows for sure. We believe high ethical standards are important to our members and we urge you to express any concerns you may have to our commissioners and to county administrator Ronnie Bell.
Richard Fowlkes, President
Blue Mountain Beach Community Association
“Dedicated to the preservation of our residential community - its natural beauty and its quality of life – through education, communication, and cooperation”
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