By ALICIA LEONARD
After the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) were unable to discuss Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO)’s last request to reconsider returning funds to pay for a new 911 system, due to the legal need for the request to be discussed in a scheduled public hearing, Sheriff Ralph Johnson requested intervention from Governor Charlie Crist.
Johnson filed a petition on March 26 with the Florida Office of Policy and Budgets to ask the state to force the BCC to return funds in the amount of $311,431 to pay for the newly-installed equipment.
Johnson said, “From the February 26 meeting, where they voted, you have 30 days to appeal to the Cabinet. From the newspapers we read, Commissioner Jones made overtures that he would be willing to listen to it again. We made an attempt to reach out to them and give them a chance to correct the mistake. What they did last Tuesday night did not lead me to believe that they were going to do anything any different and we were fighting a time issue. We had 30 days to file the appeal, so we had to do it now.”
On March 27, Crist’s office acknowledged the receipt of Johnson’s letter and petition appealing the ruling of the BCC.
BCC Chairman Larry Jones said of the petition, “Sheriff Johnson has the right to file the petition and we will cooperate fully with the process. Whatever decision is made we will follow.”
On April 2 Walton County interim attorney Michael Burke filed a response to Johnson’s petition on behalf of the BCC. In the response Burke stated that the Sheriff’s proposed budget for fiscal years 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 did not itemize any expenditures for capital outlays for the new 911 system as required in Florida Statute 30.49 (2)(b)3. The response also makes note that Motorola, who installed the new 911 system, called for payment of the entire contract price of $311,431 by Sept. 14, 2007, before the end of fiscal year for 2006-2007 and has still not been paid.
Burk also made note that the type of petition Johnson filed is used in cases of when an emergency has arisen and Burke stated that Johnson has not asserted such at this time because the Sheriff cannot allege that an emergency exists that prohibits him from fulfilling his duty. Burke also stated in the response that multiple factors such as the 911 system being the responsibility of the BCC, having backup or secondary 911 systems in the area, and that Johnson has not agreed to attend a public hearing on behalf of his request make the petition filed by Johnson not “ripe.” As such, it should not be heard by the Governor’s Administration Commission.
A date has yet to be set for a hearing on the matter.