But the District 4 incumbent says he stands behind every mailer sent out by his campaign.
With the Aug. 28 primary election looming, Santa Rosa County Commissioner and candidate for re-election Rob Williamson finds himself beset by allegations of dishonesty.
In three recent campaign mail-outs, Williamson has distorted or fabricated the truth, according to Sandi Kemp, the publisher and owner of the Navarre Press, a weekly newspaper. Kemp’s newspaper has notified Williamson’s campaign that it will sue if the most recent alleged lies aren’t retracted by the end of this week.
"I write concerning a mailer you and your campaign recently sent," a letter from Navarre Press attorney John Adams said. "The mailer contains texts you allege to have exchanged with Sandi Kemp which were never sent, and as such, the mailer contains false and defamatory statements.
"While your actions in publishing false and fabricated texts are certainly disappointing, they are also unlawful," the letter later states.
But Williamson said there will be no retraction.
"The Navarre Press and its owner Sandi Kemp have been conducting an unprecedented, viscous, personal vendetta against me worse than the likes of a crazy ex-girlfriend," Williamson said in an email. "I have been standing up to the town bully and she doesn’t like it. I am not going to retract anything. Her household has financially contributed to my opponent and she has been photographed putting up his signs. She is using her newspaper to attack, not report — giving real, fair journalists a bad rap."
David Piech, Williamson’s opponent, has, of his own volition, filed two separate complaints against Williamson with the Florida Election Commission. Both dispute statements made in earlier Williamson campaign fliers.
One of Piech’s complaints states Williamson falsely accused him of refusing to vote for President Trump. The flyer cites the Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections Office as the source of the voting information.
Piech, who like Williamson is running as a Republican, said he did in fact vote for Trump, and Tappie Villane, the supervisor of elections, insists no one, including anyone in her office, has access to knowledge about how any voter has cast ballots.
"We know who voted and in what election they voted and we know what method they used to vote, but obviously we do not know how people voted," Villane said. "People are guaranteed a private ballot and that is just what it is, a secret ballot."
Villane said she has spoken to Williamson and "he understands where I am coming from."
"To have something put out that implies something that is not true can be frustrating," she said. "Mr. Williamson assured me there would be no other future mailers that would use us as a source."
Williamson said he stands behind all of the information in his mailers.
"My opponent did not become a resident of Florida until last year, has never voted in Santa Rosa, and he is from Chicago. All three statements are facts," Williamson wrote in an email. "Piech is either ignorant of what records are kept with the Supervisor of Elections or is purposely misleading voters to cause hysteria. Never has my campaign claimed that ANYONE can determine how a person voted based on records. That information is not kept. However, if you weren’t a registered voter in Santa Rosa county until 2017, it is impossible for you to have voted for Trump during the Florida elections. The source for who is registered in Santa Rosa County and who is not, is the Supervisor of Elections."
The flyer over which the Navarre Press is contemplating suing appears to badly distort a text message conversation between Kemp and Williamson.
On the flyer, what appears to be a screen shot taken of a cell phone carries a texted conversation. It reads:
Rob Williamson: "What’s wrong with me supporting Trump?"
Sandi Kemp: "The picture with Don Jr. I don’t know who you can look at yourself in mirror. You look ill.
"I truly feel sorry for you so do many others – many."
"But they aren't voting for you. Please get the help you need."
Rob Williamson: "This is my county phone. You can harass me online or in your newspaper about supporting Trump, but not at taxpayer expense. Have a good day."
In his letter to Williamson, Adams said "despite your representations to thousands of Santa Rosa County residents, the above text exchange did not occur."
The actual texts sent, according to a public records request produced by Santa Rosa County, were:
Kemp: "What a liar you are and you paid for the picture with Don Jr. I don’t know how you can look at yourself in the mirror. You look ill. It must be difficult to live such a duplicitous life. I truly feel sorry for you – and so do many others — many. But — they aren’t voting for you. Please get the help you need .. for your sake and your family. Praying for you. Seriously."
Williamson: "Thank you for your prayers."
When pressed during a phone call on why the public record of the text messages didn't match his version of the text messages, Williamson repeatedly deflected, saying the words on the mailer were those of Kemp.
"My comments … Sandi’s comments match the public record," Williamson said.
Asked if he responded "Thank you for your prayers" at 11:08 p.m. Aug. 11 instead of "This is my county phone ..." Williamson ended the conversation without answer.
Kemp and the Navarre Press have a history of conflict with Williamson. She said Tuesday that her newspaper is the only media outlet willing to call the commissioner out.
Kemp said Williamson has recently been claiming in signs and flyers that the Navarre Press produces fake news.
She said she never would have posted a message like the one sent to Williamson’s county-issued phone on a more public forum like Facebook. She said the text message was sent after she found she was unable to comment on his campaign Facebook page and that there was no text from Williamson preceding her text.
"The text was personal to Rob, and I stand behind every word," Kemp said in an email. "And he proved it to be true once again — by taking my text to him apart to turn it into an entirely different meaning in an attempt to discredit and defame me and my business. And — on top of that — he mailed it out to thousands of people."
The attorney letter cites a Florida law that states civil action for defamation can be taken "when there has been a false and unprivileged publication by letter or other medium which exposes a person to distrust, hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy or which has a tendency to injure such person in his or her office occupation, business or employment."
Adams offered in his letter not to sue Williamson if by Aug. 24 he sends out a mailer identical to the original admitting the inaccuracy of the previous one. The flyer should include images of the first mailer so that it can be identified, Adams wrote.
"It is unclear to Ms. Kemp why you would send a mailer that knowingly and falsely represents to thousands of individuals that you exchanged texts with Ms. Kemp that were in fact never sent," the attorney letter said. "The texts you actually sent Ms. Kemp had nothing to do with the use of county resources or anyone’s support of President Trump."
But Williamson said Kemp is using her publication to campaign for Piech. In his email to the Daily News, Williamson asserted that he is the one who will be filing a lawsuit.
"Furthermore, we are taking the necessary steps to file with the Florida Elections Commission the unreported in-kind contributions from The Navarre Press to Dave Piech and have spent the last year documenting everything from Mrs. Kemp that will support a successful libel and defamation law suit," he said.