By DOTTY NIST
Scott Brannon made a public statement on April 28 to settle a question recently raised by a citizen about the Walton County District 1 commissioner’s consideration of Driftwood Estates issues.
On April 14, Greater Driftwood Estates Homeowners’ Association representative Alan Osborne presented documentation that a significant amount of property in the Driftwood subdivison had in 2006 come under the partial ownership of CWJ Holdings, along with additional evidence from the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations showing that an officer/director of CWJ, C. Wayne Jones, also serves as a manager with another company, Freeport Group, L.L.C., for which Brannon is also listed as a manager. This information was presented during the April 14 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting, but Brannon was absent from the meeting room during much of Osborne’s presentation.
Brannon had not disclosed his association with Jones or abstained from voting on the numerous Driftwood items that had come before the BCC. Osborne has raised the possibility of a conflict of interest in this regard, over objections from County Commission Chair Sara Comander and Mike Burke, county legal counsel, who had stated that the proper channel for allegations of this nature was the Florida Commission on Ethics.
At the outset of the April 28 BCC meeting, Brannon read a prepared statement on the matter, and no public comment was taken.
He stated that, since the April 14 meeting, he had reviewed audio tapes of Osborne’s remarks and had met with Osborne “to discuss his concerns.”
Brannon emphasized, “First and foremost, I own no property in Driftwood Estates. I do not own, and have never owned any interest in Driftwood Estates.”
Brannon described the business partner that Osborne had referenced as “a minority member” of Freeport Group, L.L.C. and stated that he, himself, is also a minority member.
“This company has no association with Driftwood Estates, and is the only company I am involved in that is associated with Mr. Jones,” he continued.
Brannon said that Freeport, L.L.C. had been “created for a transaction in 2005, and now owns a single piece of property.”
Brannon explained that he had reviewed the information presented by Osborne on April 28 and had also researched Jones’ property ownership in Driftwood Estates since the time of Osborne’s presentation.
“In 2005,” Brannon stated, “when Freeport Group, L.L.C., was created, Mr. Jones did not own any property in Driftwood. Unbeknownst to me, at a later time, Mr. Jones, operating under a separate L.L.C., and with another business partner, purchased the lots Mr. Osborne made reference to. I did not know at that time, or at the time of any vote on Driftwood, that Mr. Jones owned those properties. Additionally, no vote this board has made on Driftwood provided a special gain to Mr. Jones.”
Brannon asserted that he had at all times based his votes in connection with Driftwood issues on advice and information provided by county staff and county legal counsel, and not on any outside influences.
“I believe that Mr. Osborne and the Driftwood Estates community have a right to have their issues presented to this board without the fear of improper motives for board action,” Brannon read. He added, “A full and fair hearing on their issues is important for a reasonable resolution of this matter. While I would never put my personal interests, or the interests of any business partner, over the public, it is important to avoid voting in any matter that could be perceived in that way.”
Brannon announced that, now that he had been made aware of Jones’ property ownership in Driftwood, “and because I believe it is important to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” he would seek a written opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics as to whether his consideration of any Driftwood matters as part of the BCC would represent a conflict of interest. Until that opinion was rendered, Brannon stated that he would abstain from any BCC action on Driftwood.
Brannon’s decision has resulted in two of three county commissioners abstaining from action on Driftwood. District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones had consistently abstained in these matters during the time of his employment with Adams Homes, contractors for homes on the Driftwood property, although Jones had stated that there was no direct connection between his job and this particular project.
Jones recently left the employ of Adams Homes, but he has continued to abstain from voting on Driftwood matters. On April 28 he explained that his reason for doing so was that he had not been present for a significant part of the discussion on these matters during the period of his previous employment.
Dotty Nist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.