City officials leery of ‘accountability meeting’

Matt Algarin

City Attorney Jerry Miller and other city leaders are leery of Rep. Matt Gaetz’s proposed “accountability” town hall meetings.

“That’s fraught with opportunities for public meetings violations,” Miller said. “It’s an environment for exchange of information amongst council members outside of our normal meeting process; it’s just a trap.”

The Okaloosa Accountability Initiative would involve a series of meetings with local elected officials and citizens where ideas could be shared and citizens could have a way to hold local and state officials responsible for their actions or inactions.

During Tuesday night’s Destin City Council meeting, Miller said the city’s elected officials should “proceed with caution,” as the ultimate goal of the meeting is unclear. Miller suggested sending a representative from the city to the meeting as a “fact finder,” as long as they were “very self protective” in their actions.

Miller said the likelihood that issues would come up and be discussed, which would later involve council action was great, therefore he didn’t want to see any of the city’s elected officials put themselves in a bad spot.

Councilman Jim Wood told his colleagues that he has some “pretty big heartburn” about the whole meeting. “What is the purpose of this?” he said. “I’m not going to go to it, and I wish the rest of you well, I just hope we don’t get in trouble with it.”

But not everyone saw a need to be reluctant. Both Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell and Councilman Tuffy Dixon said they wanted to attend the meeting.

“I don’t personally see harm in going,” Ramswell said.

Dixon went as far as saying he would go to the meeting, regardless of Miller’s suggestions.

“I’m going to this meeting,” he said. “I’m not going to miss this meeting.”

“You will not be seen as a private citizen, you will be seen as a city councilor,” Councilman Cyron Marler added.

For his part, Councilman Jim Foreman told his colleagues that the letter he received inviting him to the meeting began with “dear elected official” and he has a “problem with that.”

When it came time to make a decision, city leaders unanimously agreed to send Dixon to the meeting for “fact finding” purposes.