The Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners responded to allegations of lawbreaking during a meeting this week, standing firm in the decision to lease a county building to a non-profit organization for $10 a year, without having an open-bid process.
The response came after citizen watchdog Jerry Couey accused commissioners of not following Florida statute 125.35 regarding the sale of public property.
"I feel like this board has the authority to make that choice," said Chairman Bob Cole. "I'm not going to let you stand here and prosecute what we've done in the past or what our county attorney's doing, I feel like we acted in good faith and will continue to do so in the future."
County Attorney Angela Jones said the board was bound by Florida statute but in this situation, it was not applicable. She said she thought the law applied to more "traditional" leases, not a non-profit organization serving a community purpose. The $10 fee served more as a good faith gesture toward the public.
The county has been using a building at 6828 Caroline St. as a storage facility for public records. It was purchased in 1994 for $75,000, according to county records.
The warehouse was originally purchased to deal with space issues at the courthouse. It was selected because of the proximity to the courthouse, which housed the constitutional offices at the time, and had a roll-up type warehouse door that would suit county needs.
Commissioner Don Salter spoke in defense of the board's decision to grant the lease to the Santa Rosa County Arts and Culture Foundation. He said the complaint was outcry and conflict from two opposing organizations, the Santa Rosa County Arts and Culture Foundation and Mainstreet Milton that was stagnating progress in the county with infighting.
"If it's in the best interest of the county, then it's up to the five commissioners to make that decision," Salter said. "Once again, no one's done anything illegal."
The lease outraged several citizens, who questioned the county's policies and launched allegations against the board of county commissioners. They said the issue was not with the organization or the arts program, rather with inconsistencies with governmental procedure. They approached the microphone during the public forum to voice their disapproval with the decision to award the lease without a bidding process.
"I don't agree with how this was handled," Couey said. "I think a request for proposal should be done for everything."