Walton County Board of County Commissioners, individual commissioner and attorney facing new lawsuits

FORMER WALTON COUNTY Administrator Quinn Robertson has sued the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) with allegations that his termination by the BCC had represented retaliation. Two citizens have also filed separate lawsuits alleging that a commissioner and county attorney violated their free speech rights during the meeting at which the commissioners voted to fire Robertson.

By DOTTY NIST

Three new lawsuits were filed in one day, on March 8, against the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), an individual commissioner, and the acting county attorney.

One of the lawsuits, filed in Walton County Circuit Court against the BCC, was on behalf of Quinn Robertson, the former Walton County administrator who had been fired in a 4-1 vote by the BCC on Jan. 23, 2024, after serving a little over six months on the job.

Robertson’s legal complaint is under the Florida Whistleblower Act (FWA). The act is contained in Sections 112.3187 through 112.31895 of Florida Statutes. Its provisions are intended to prevent retaliatory action against employees of governmental entities or other public agencies or independent contractors when the employees report violations of law.

Robertson’s allegations include that the BCC’s action to terminate his employment was in retaliation for Robertson and a subordinate having reported “misfeasance, malfeasance, and/or gross mismanagement” by the BCC to the Office of the State Attorney during the time he was employed.

Robertson’s allegations include involvement by individual commissioners in day-to-day business of the county, attempts by Commissioners Danny Glidewell and Tony Anderson as individual commissioners to influence selection of a candidate for a contract, and attempted interference by the two commissioners individually with a personnel transfer made under Robertson’s authority.

Under provisions of the Whistleblower Act, the employer is prohibited from taking any adverse personnel action or retaliating against an employee for disclosing information associated with the employer’s violations of law to an investigating authority.

Robertson maintains that the BCC’s actions have caused him past and existing injuries, among those loss of wages and benefits, stress, embarrassment, and emotional damage.

He is seeking from the court an award of damages, payment of his attorney fees and costs, and temporary reinstatement to his position with the BCC during the time the lawsuit is pending.

The other two lawsuits were filed in United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division. Defendants named in both cases are William “Boots” McCormick individually and in his official capacity as Walton County District 1 commissioner and Clay Adkinson individually and in his official capacity as interim Walton County attorney.

The two lawsuits were filed by Walton County residents Alan Osborne and Dan Matacchiero, and both involve charges that McCormick violated these citizens’ constitutional rights to lawful speech.

Osborne and Matacchiero had been recognized by McCormick to speak separately in a public comments period during the course of the Jan. 23, 2024, BCC meeting, with McCormick serving as BCC chairman at that time. This was the meeting at which the BCC had voted to terminate Robertson from his county administrator position.

After beginning to speak, each of the individuals was stopped from speaking by McCormick, who had objected to their remarks.

Osborne alleges in his lawsuit that McCormick had stopped him from speaking and censored his speech on the basis of Osborne’s position on Robertson’s termination (opposition) and McCormick’s disagreement with that position—”a content based restriction on speech,”—rather than on any other factor.

He also alleges that McCormick and Adkinson, the attorney who was advising the BCC as legal counsel, had conspired to prevent his lawful speech from occurring.

Matacchiero, who was approached by several deputies summoned by the chair at one point during the meeting and was turned away from the speaker’s stand, also maintains that the restriction on his speech at the meeting was based on its content (opposition to Robertson’s termination) and the fact of his comments being contrary to the opinion of chairman regarding the termination. He also argues that McCormick and Adkinson had conspired to prevent his lawful speech.

In addition, Mattacchiero points out that McCormick had directed him not to address him, McCormick, as an individual board member with his comments. Matacchiero argues that this is “directly contrary to the Board’s policy on public comment during public meetings.”

Both Osborne and Matacchiero are contending that the actions of the chairman and attorney deprived them of their free speech rights, in violation of the constitutions of the United States and Florida.

They are seeking relief from the court, including a prohibition on such treatment by the defendants, which they describe as “having the effect of chilling the exercise of free speech and redress.” A court judgment against the defendants is sought, as well, along with award of damages and payment of attorney fees and costs.

There have been no responsive filings to any of the three lawsuits at this time, and no court dates have been set.