Matt Gaetz visits Laurel Hill on his Open Gaetz Town Hall style tour

GAETZ STARTED THE meeting reading from “He-coon: The Bob Sikes Story,” an autobiography.

Story and Photos by STACY MARTIN

On Feb. 21, U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) made a series of three stops in his Open Gaetz Day tour. The three stops were in Perdido Key, Destin, and a final stop at Water Oaks Farm in Laurel Hill. An estimated 130+ people showed up to participate in the town hall-style event, each receiving a ticket upon entering; those whose tickets were drawn came up and asked a question. Okaloosa County Commissioner Graham W. Fountain gave an opening statement and then welcomed Gaetz to the stage. 

Gaetz began giving a short talk reading passages from a book about local Congressman Bob Sikes, who wrote about Laurel Hill. Before getting to the comments and suggestions from the crowd, Gaetz discussed traffic issues on Hwy 85.

OKALOOSA COUNTY COMMISSIONER Graham W. Fountain Welcoming attendees and Congressman Gaetz.

 “I’m proud to tell you that just within the last several weeks, we have executed the final documents; thanks to Senator Don Gaetz and the chairman of the Triumph committee and Commissioner Graham Fountain we are going to build the connector around 85 to relieve traffic.”

Gaetz also made a brief statement on his appearance on the TV show “The View” and on the “crisis on America’s border,” stating, “It is sick that our country would create policies that incentivize human trafficking and the movement of children in this way.” Gaetz commented on key reforms that he said have reduced the migrant flow.

OKALOOSA COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT Superintendent Marcus Chambers praising schools in Laurel Hill.

“People are no longer just getting a catch and release in the United States, they are having to wait for their asylum claim in Mexico, or they are getting a one-way flight back to Guatemala City. That’s a consequence of historic agreements we made with Northern Triangle Countries [Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras], its also a consequence of having more border patrol, more security at the border, and by extending over 150 miles of walls we built now with 500 miles due by the end of 2020.”  

Gaetz then briefly commented on the condition of the schools and expressed his inspiration at the students in Okaloosa County Schools, as well as his concern over witnessing people “entering the workforce and entering our education system that simply are not prepared for the obligations that come along with citizenship.” 

THIS 15-YR.-OLD STUDENT asked Gaetz in-depth questions on traffic and railway standards.

Gaetz then invited Marcus Chambers, Okaloosa County School District (OCSD) Superintendent, to step up to the stage to give a brief report on the OCSD. Chambers took to the stage and discussed the new era of learning and education, and one of the focuses in OCSD is safety. New measures that Chambers mentioned are a Single-Point-Of-Entry, fences are going up around the schools, and communication devices that partner with the sheriff’s department with access to live –feed cameras in schools. 

Chambers also discussed the importance of mental health and providing resources and training to staff and faculty, and career and technical education to the students. “Teachers 10 years ago, they didn’t get into education thinking they were going to have to be safety experts, mental health experts, but they are doing an outstanding job of taking on those responsibilities in order to keep our kids safe.” 

Gaetz then began to draw tickets from a bucket, inviting close to 20 ticket holder attendees to the stage to ask him questions ranging from Social Security, postal reform, cannabis reform, veterans health issues, and traffic-railway infrastructure.