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Walton county attorney submits resignation, declines to read letter aloud at meeting

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — The Walton County Board of County Commissioners formally and unanimously accepted the resignation of County Attorney Sidney Noyes on Tuesday and immediately began planning for interim legal representation and an eventual replacement.

Noyes, whose resignation becomes effective March 12, has been serving as county attorney since August 2017, when the then-sitting commission voted to hire her.

More:Walton County budgets $1 million to cover annual cost of customary use litigation

Before her hiring, Noyes had served as assistant county attorney under then-County Attorney Mark Davis, who had resigned in April 2017 after three years to take a position with an area law firm. Noyes had previously worked as a public defender and in private practice with a DeFuniak Springs law firm. 

Also::Cattle farmer who opposed Walton solar farm persuades county to protect agricultural land

She presented her letter of resignation to the commission at the end of a Tuesday morning meeting and declined an invitation from commission Chairman Trey Nick to read the letter aloud. Noyes had actually submitted her resignation on Wednesday of last week, but Tuesday's meeting represented the first opportunity for the commission to accept her resignation.

Noyes did not respond to a Monday call and email to her office seeking comment on her resignation. Similarly, just one of the five county commissioners contacted Monday for comment responded to text and phone messages. Commissioner Tony Anderson, who did respond to a phone call, deferred comment to Noyes.      

After thanking Noyes for her service Tuesday, commissioners turned immediately to the question of how they would move forward between now and Noyes' last day in the job and how they would fill the job after her departure.

As Walton County's involvement in a lawsuit over "customary use" by the public of county beaches is continuing, the county's counsel, Sidney Noyes, on Tuesday announced her resignation. The Walton County Board of County Commissioners will decide formally next week how to proceed in replacing Noyes and, in the interim, ensuring that its legal representation remains sufficient.

“Of course, we can’t be without legal representation,” Commissioner Danny Glidewell said.

The county is involved in an array of legal issues, as is typical for local governments.

However, Walton County for the past two years has been embroiled in significant legal wrangling over "customary use," the question of whether all 26 miles of the county's beaches, most of which are held by private property owners, should be open to the public.

An eventual court declaration on customary use would end incessant and heated disagreement over where beachgoers, including the millions of tourists who drive the county's economy, can and cannot be on the county's stretches of white sand along the Gulf of Mexico.

More:Walton County budgets $1 million to cover annual cost of customary use litigation

In the immediate wake of Noyes' resignation, commissioners scrambled to develop a plan to move forward, including whether to immediately begin working with a law firm with knowledge of the county's legal situations, possibly including a firm already working with the county's Tourist Development Council.

Walton County Administrator Larry Jones initially told commissioners that with regard to finding a replacement for Noyes, "we're ready to put the notice out this afternoon to advertise the position."

Subsequently, though, Jones suggested that commissioners wait until their next scheduled meeting, set for Feb. 23, to make any formal decisions on how to handle the county's need for legal representation and how to bring a new county attorney on board.