BCC continues hearing on removal of planning commissioner to April 9

By DOTTY NIST

The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) has voted to continue the public hearing on the removal of Fred Tricker from the Walton County Planning Commission.

The vote to continue took place at the outset of the March 12 BCC regular meeting at Freeport Commons. It was noted that the continuance had been requested by Tricker’s attorney.

On Feb. 27, the BCC had voted 3-2 to hold the hearing as part of the March 12 meeting. A public hearing is required for removal of a planning commissioner, according to the Walton County Land Development Code (LDC).

Tricker, a south Walton County resident, is currently serving as Walton County District 1 Commissioner Boots McCormick’s appointee to the planning commission in a term that extends to Jan. 31, 2025

McCormick has recently stated his intention to remove Tricker from the planning commission and replace him for the remainder of the term, making the Feb. 27 motion to set the public hearing on a “with cause” removal without giving a reason for the proposed action.

Information on McCormick’s reasons for the request were provided in a letter dated March 3, as part of the March 12 meeting agenda.

The letter is attached to this article. 

During the course of the March 12 meeting, McCormick voiced concern about Tricker continuing to serve on the planning commission pending the public hearing. He stated that “a legal team” had presented concerns in a letter and had provided a notarized copy of a complaint that would be filed against Tricker alleging an ethics violation. McCormick was worried about possible legal challenges if Tricker were to vote no on projects and the projects were to fail.

McCormick asked for, and made a motion for, a temporary suspension of Tricker from the planning commission “until the outcome of this ethics complaint.”

The motion was seconded for discussion by District 2 Commissioner Danny Glidewell.

Asked if a suspension would be allowable, Walton County Assistant Attorney Frankie White said she did not see any provisions of the LDC that would provide for such a suspension.

McCormick said he understood that the suspension would be “new territory.”

“Now we just put an assistant director on suspension because of allegations,” he stated, not providing any other information on the suspension referenced. He reasoned that he did not see that the BCC would not have the authority to suspend a planning commissioner.

Asked for his input on the matter, Mac Carpenter, county planning and development services director, said he did not believe the LDC was specific enough for him to answer the question whether the suspension would be allowed or prohibited.

District 3 Commissioner Brad Drake posed the hypothetical question of whether a county commissioner would automatically be temporarily relieved from their duties if an ethics complaint were filed against the commissioner.

McCormick answered no, but said that “the authority figure” in that circumstance would be the governor. “We are the authority figure in this situation,” he commented, speaking of the suspension of a planning commissioner.

“I do not have faith in this person making the decisions…I feel that they are putting this county in a liability situation,” McCormick said. He said he wanted to put that on record but suggested moving to the next agenda item.

District 4 Commissioner Donna Johns likened the request for suspension to “putting the cart before the horse.”

She also stated that she thought Tricker had done “a fantastic job” on the planning commission, praising his knowledge of the LDC.

“And I personally cannot think of one instance where I thought that he was wrong about anything,” Johns said of Tricker.

“And I think that we should have more Fred Trickers on that board,” Johns continued, adding that if so the county might not be as overdeveloped as it is.

After a break, there was more discussion on the planning commission, and White offered to look into the LDC further for anything related to suspension.

Glidewell asked about the “realistic impact” of a planning commissioner’s vote being the deciding factor on planning commission recommendations.

White replied that the planning commission is an advisory board to the BCC and noted that it could happen that all the planning commissioners voted no on a project and the BCC could vote yes.

She explained that the planning commissioners care about the community and contribute their time, and that their recommendations do matter, but that it is up to the judgment of the BCC to “decide the appropriate weight” to give to the planning commission’s votes.

White said that, speaking specifically about Tricker, if he were to vote no and his vote were the deciding factor for a planning commission decision, “the project would still come before the board, and you all could still make your own decision…”

After some additional discussion on the matter, McCormick withdrew his motions for suspension.

The officials did not take public comment on the possible removal of Tricker at the March 12 meeting, with White stating that the public would have the ability to speak about the matter at the public hearing on April 9.

Tricker has declined to comment on the matter