By DOTTY NIST
Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF) members and their guests heard from candidates for local office and one candidate for state Legislature on July 18.
This was at the club’s monthly meeting at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Miramar Beach. The meeting focused on candidates for the Walton County District 5 seat, school superintendent candidates, and candidates for the Florida House of Representatives District 5 seat.
First to speak were the five candidates for Walton County District 5, including incumbent Cecilia Jones and challengers Cindy Meadows, Tom Babcock, Will Palmer, and Tim Pauls.
Jones told attendees that her goals would be streamlining county government in order to keep taxes low, diversifying the economy, and encouraging community involvement in government. She said she had pushed to see that BP fine money would come to the areas impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill rather than to the general fund of the federal government. Her favorite project for funding through those fines is a plant and fish hatchery which would be a partnership effort between the county, the schools, and other state and local entities.
Jones said she has focused on helping citizens resolve conflicts in the community by bringing them together in the “big room” at District 5 headquarters and encouraging them to “work it out.”
“I am a team player…I answer to you,” Jones said. “I want to know I did the right thing when I put my head on my pillow at night,” she added.
Cindy Meadows, who served as District 5 commissioner from 2004 through 2008, was the first woman to be elected to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC). She did not run for re-election at the end of that term. Meadows is a planner and member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
She spoke to the need to get more citizens involved in the election process, as only 30 percent typically come to the polls for a primary.
Meadows told attendees that during her tenure one never read about corruption or bad land deals in Walton County, and that a grand jury never issued a subpoena for any of her emails. She pledged to strive for quality of life for residents and to fight against the influence of special interests on the commission. She asked residents to vote for her to send a message that they wanted honest government.
Tom Babcock, a pharmacist with over 30 years’ business experience, said he had learned that what was most important was to treat people honestly and fairly and work hard. He promised to do that as a commissioner. He also promised to be proactive and plan for future infrastructure needs and where new residential and business development should go.
He spoke to the need to promote the county’s industrial parks and compete with neighboring counties in attracting new companies and residents. He urged for Walton County to get ready to take advantage of European jet maker Airbus’ plans to build plants in the U.S.
Babcock pledged as commissioner to work together with citizens to create togetherness between government and the community. He also pledged to operate in openness and accord with the Sunshine Law. “You can be assured of my integrity,” he said.
“I love this area,” said Will Palmer, a local realtor who is originally from Thomasville, Ga. He said that love for the area is his reason for running for county commission. “I want to help lead us in the right direction,” Palmer said.
Palmer stated bringing trust back to county government as his first priority. He said that as commissioner he would keep his web site up and put on it how he planned to vote on issues. Secondly, he emphasized the importance of seeking out opportunities to bring new businesses to the county and communicate to businesses that they would be welcomed to the area. “I think it’s imperative that we grow smartly,” Palmer added.
He pledged to focus on traffic issues and address the lack of beach accesses and parking for beachgoers. The South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) does a good job of attracting visitors, but it is also important to ensure that tourists can get around safety while they are here, Palmer commented.
“My heart and soul is in District 5,” said former District 5 Commissioner Tim Pauls, who served on the BCC from 2000 through 2004. Pauls said that he learned quickly during his tenure that a Walton County commissioner represents all the county. While Pauls holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling, his career has been devoted to real estate, construction, development and marketing.
His perspective on the “other side” has made him aware that Walton County has a reputation for being difficult to get projects through, Pauls said. He saw this situation as the number one thing to change in order for new businesses to be attracted. County code also needs to be simpler and more consistent, Pauls said. “It’s very, very important,” he emphasized.
Pauls spoke to the need to focus on access to parcels along U.S. 331 in conjunction with four-laning soon to come on the highway. “This is so important to be planning now,” he said.
Pauls said he is “passionate” about tourism and spoke to the need to “take care” of tourists in the county, by, among other things, adding parking and beach accesses and addressing traffic problems and congestion. “I’m about solving problems,” he said.
The District 5 candidates were asked if they thought the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) had been effective enough and what should be done to promote economic development in Walton County.
Jones responded that the EDA had been effective but that more could be done. She emphasized the importance of a business-friendly attitude but also highlighted the importance of remaining the “special place” that Walton County is, thanks to rules that are in place.
Pauls and Palmer stated their agreement on the importance of a business-friendly attitude.
Pauls warned that market forces can overwhelm what the county tries to do to promote economic development. Babcock was of the opinion that the county was lacking in “product” in the area of economic development. Water and sewer service must be available in order to attract businesses, he said.
Meadows commented that business leaders have told her that the county needs to attract the kind of businesses that will enhance “what we have” in Walton County. She suggested setting up, in partnership with a college, a science center where students would come to study environmental restoration in the wake of oil spills and hurricanes.
In response to a question on the current FBI investigation in Walton County, Meadows commented that the investigation has just scratched the surface of a situation that “goes much deeper.”
“Just stay tuned, folks, because where there’s smoke, there’s fire. This is one reason I’m running and we need to clean it up,” she emphasized.
The two Republican candidates for the county school superintendent race were present and addressed the group. Carlene Anderson is the incumbent and Trisha Porter Hutchison is the challenger….
Read the full story in the July 26, 2012 edition of the Herald Breeze.