By DOTTY NIST
“I saw such an eagerness to work together,” Sara Comander said of the Oct. 22 meeting of the consortium of counties being set up in connection with the RESTORE Act. The Walton County District 4 commissioner’s comment came at the Walton County Board of County Commissioners’ (BCC) Oct. 23 regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse. Comander represents Walton County on the consortium, whose formation is being coordinated by the Florida Association of Counties (FAC). The RESTORE Act provides for a consortium of Florida’s 23 Gulf Coast counties to make determinations on the use of funds in the “state” or “consortium pot” of funds to come to Florida as a result of fines in connection with the BP oil spill. Funds in this pot may come to as much as $1 billion.
Comander represents Walton County on the Gulf Consortium. She reported that representatives of 22 of the 23 counties had been present at the Oct. 22 consortium meeting in Tallahassee. She explained that all but two of the 23 counties, Collier County and Franklin County, had signed on to be consortium members. Comander reported that Collier County was scheduled to approve an agreement to be on the consortium the following week. “I was so impressed with the camaraderie,” Comander said of the gathering. “They are encouraging regional approaches,” she explained. Comander also reported that consortium members had asked for more information on a proposal relayed to them from Florida Governor Rick Scott. She said that Chris Holley of the FAC had told the members that Scott “would also like a seat at our table,” and had also requested to appoint the chair of the consortium and seven other members.
The legislation setting up the consortium provides for the group to admit additional members by vote of the existing members. These could be representatives of additional Florida counties, governmental agencies, or other entities. Comander said it was not made clear whether the new members the governor wanted to appoint would be voting or non-voting members. There had already been concern among the eight Panhandle counties that were disproportionately impacted by the oil spill that the other 15 Gulf Coast Counties might work against their interest and outvote them in decisions on the use of monies in the consortium pot. The consortium members delegated Escambia County Commissioner Grover C. Robinson, IV, and Leon County Commissioner/FAC president Bryan Desloge to meet with Governor Scott to obtain additional information on his proposal. Comander concluded by saying that it was good to see people from Walton County who had travelled to Tallahassee to attend the Oct. 22 consortium meeting.