| Northwest Florida Daily News USA TODAY NETWORK
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS – The race for the third and final seat on the Walton County Board of County Commissioners was decided Tuesday when incumbent Republican Tony Anderson met Democratic political newcomer Dr. Carolynn Zonia defeated in the race for District 5.
WALTON ELECTION RESULTS: Show numbers
“This is what you do – you give the people the choice,” said Zonia, a paramedic and community activist, as he acknowledged that voters had chosen to bring Anderson back to office.
More: Raccoons drowned in cages mentioned in third lawsuit against South Walton Mosquito Control
“I wish him all the best,” Zonia went on, adding that she called Anderson within minutes of the unofficial election results being published.
Anderson received 31,319 ballots in the race, which is 73.97% of the ballots cast. Zonia received 11,019 votes, or 26.03% of the vote.
“I’m very happy about it, very humble about it,” said Anderson of his successful offer for re-election.
Looking ahead to his next four years on the commission, Anderson declared his commitment to continue the battle for “normal use,” the county’s ongoing legal battle to open all of its 26 miles of public and private beaches to the public.
More: The South Walton Mosquito Control District is on trial
Anderson also sees growth and infrastructure issues as an ongoing challenge and expects the Freeport area to be the next part of the county to deal with growth-related issues.
All Walton County officers are elected statewide but must be resident in the county they are from. District 5 includes most of the area south of US Highway 98 and the Hogtown Bayou area north of US 98 and west of US Highway 331.
The other two Walton County Commission campaign races that year for District 1 and District 3 were decided in the primaries. District 2 Commissioner Trey Nick and District 4 Commissioner Danny Glidewell will not expire until 2022.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman, who currently chairs the commission, has chosen not to seek re-election this year. His seat, although not necessarily the chair, goes to William “Boots” McCormick, a Freeport-born and former Walton County Sheriff’s MP who won the Republican primary and was unchallenged in Tuesday’s general election. District 1 comprises the southeast corner of the county.
District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper also decided not to apply for re-election this year. The District 3 seat was won in this year’s primary by Republican Mike Barker, a former deputy sheriff who became the county’s first emergency director. District 3 comprises much of northwest Walton County.
The new commissioners will be sworn in on November 16th and the entire commission will hold an organizational meeting the next day. At that point, they will select a chairman and vice-chairman and discuss various committee tasks.
In Tuesday’s other two local races for impartial seats on the South Walton Mosquito Control DistdBoard, Doug Liles secured first place in a tight competition ahead of reigning John Magee. Liles received 9,568 votes for 50.46% of the total while Magee received 9,395 votes for 49.54% of the vote. Although the race is close, it does not meet the state’s criteria for automatic recount.
A political newcomer, Liles is an entrepreneur and builder who founded Southern Hybrid Homes and the Good Samaritan Institute in northwest Florida.
Magee, the retired president and CEO of a specialty chemicals company he and his wife founded in 1993, served SWMCD for 16 years.
In the Seat 2 competition, another political newcomer, Donna Johns, took over from incumbent Tim Norris with a vote of 11,309 to 7,304. Johns received 60.76% of the vote, with Norris receiving 39.24% of the votes cast.
Johns, who retired from the Air Force as a special agent, has been running a private investigation business in Counties Walton and Okaloosa for 20 years.
Norris is a real estate agent who worked for the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance. He did not return a call Tuesday for comment on the election results.
The SWMCD was founded in 1964 as a special tax district for the control of mosquitoes and other annoying insects in the southern part of the district. A separate mosquito control district includes Walton County north of Choctawhatchee Bay.
Incumbents Magee and Norris were challenged by Liles and Johns in large part over news that the SWMCD had allocated $ 8 million to build a new district headquarters complex.
Magee and Norris have defended construction and renovation expenses by finding that less than half the money – $ 3.8 million – would go to build a new administrative building. The rest of the money will go towards renovating a number of outbuildings on the district’s campus at 393 County Road in Santa Rosa Beach. And according to Norris, funds have been allocated to the project over time so that SWMCD doesn’t have to borrow money to finance the construction and renovation projects.
Taking into account the challenges facing the two men, the district also took the step to add rainwater management to its responsibilities. A budget proposal for the proposed South Walton Mosquito Control and Storm Water District shows potential spending of $ 31.9 million with equivalent tax revenues. The current budget of SWMCD is $ 11 million.
In addition, there were concerns about three lawsuits filed by former employees against the district. Settlements were made in the cases of a former employee who claims he was fired because of a year-long disciplinary problem after reporting a former director came to work drunk and a second employee who claimed she was sexually assaulted A total of $ 132,000 received by a colleague and rejected by her manager when she reported the incident. The third case is still pending.
The fact that the lawsuits were filed “shows bad leadership,” Johns said in an interview Monday
The Seat 1 race was also interrupted by controversy between Magee and Liles when Liles used the South Walton Mosquito Control District logo on its campaign signs for a period, which Magee said was inappropriate. The logo was apparently never copyrighted, but Liles had new signs printed without the logo.
In an interview on Monday, Magee called the Seat 1 competition “the craziest election I’ve ever participated in,” characterized by false information and “a lot of hatred”.
Norris was also frustrated with concerns about the headquarters building and renovation project, saying the existing headquarters were clearly out of date.
“It’s all a bunch of hoo-ha,” said Norris the day before the election. “Enough is enough.”
Liles referred to the construction and renovation project in Tuesday’s comments on his victory. When asked what he was going to do with his tenure on the board, he said, “We’re not going to spend $ 8 million on a building …”
Additionally, voters in the northern part of the county on Tuesday approved a 2 percent tax on housing with proceeds to be used to market that part of the county to tourists and make tourism improvements in the area north of Choctawhatchee Bay.
The vote on the 2 percent levy ranged from 11,455 (55.95%) to 9,019 (44.05%).
With the levy approved, 40 percent of the income from tax on hotel and motel room fees, condominiums, and other accommodations rented for less than six months must be used for marketing the northern portion of the county. The remaining 60 percent will also be spent in North Walton and could be used more widely, for example to support events, programs or infrastructures that benefit visitors and locals alike.
A tourism development tax of 5 percent is already levied in the southern part of the county, which now brings in more than $ 25 million annually. This money will be used in a variety of ways, from funding a lifeguard program to building and maintaining beach access to supporting local events.