St. George Island businessman Walter Armistead is the newest member of the Tourist Development Council after county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint him to the open seat.
TDC board member Chester Reese told commissioners Armistead was chosen after a tie vote eliminated Apalachicola innkeeper Lynn Spohrer as a candidate.
“It’s been a very contentious time. I would like to say that I hope we can all move on and do the business that the TDC is required to do,” he said.
“I’ve got nothing against Mr. Armistead, but I need to know why nobody from Apalachicola’s on it,” asked Commissioner Noah Lockley said. “The TDC’s spread all over the county and you’re leaving a whole city out. That don’t look right.”
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders asked for an explanation. “Can anyone answer Mr. Lockley’s question?” she said.
“This discussion has been long and very difficult,” replied Reese. “As the TDC has looked at this, Apalachicola is represented, as is Carrabelle. I represent the Chamber (of Commerce) for the city of Carrabelle and Beverly Hewitt represents the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce.
“Both cities have an open access to the TDC for anything. When my (Chamber) members tell me what to do, I follow along with that, as I assume Apalachicola would. I know there’s been a lot of contention about why we don’t have somebody specifically from (The Guest Lodging Association of Franklin County), but as the board mashed this out, I think, in a generality, that we were looking to represent the entire county.
“No specific place should have any special recommendation. When Mr. Armistead came up and did his talk, he never mentioned about any one specific place. He came for the goodness and the extension of Franklin County, not necessarily one place, which is why he got the vote,” said Reese.
“Technically though, for the board representation, the city of Apalachicola and the city of Carrabelle have two representatives,” said Commissioner Pinki Jackel. “They do have chamber representatives but they also have city representatives.”
Lockley persisted. “I’m talking about the motels, hotels and inns, the bed tax providers,” he said. “These people own hotels. I think they should be represented.”
Jackel said the matter had been discussed numerous times at the TDC. “The openings have always been open to every citizen in Franklin County,” she said. “One of the things that was expressed by one of the groups that came before the TDC, what was presented, would actually take an amendment to the Florida statute.”
Jackel said that appointing a representative specifically an Apalachicola lodging provider group would have required a change to the law. “I spoke with the county attorney about that and we can’t change the wording of the Florida statute,” she said. “That type of action that we were presented with is not legally acceptable by the terms of the Florida statute or by county ordinance.”
Lockley asked if board members have a term limit. Jackel said they did, and that no current member was near the limit. “There will be openings coming up,” she said.
TDC Director Curt Blair said appointees representing the chambers of commerce, and board members representing the county commission and the two city commissions, are all subject to reappointment annually. He said the remaining members are appointed for four-year terms.
Judi Stokowski, vice president of the Guest Lodging Association of Franklin County, said membership in the group is not limited to Apalachicola providers. “It’s for the smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts. We expanded that to Franklin County.
“I think there’s been some spin put on some things,” said Stokowski. “We have membership throughout the county from Alligator Point, through all aspects of the county. Florida statute allows municipal governments to serve seats. We have a certain number of memberships that must be tax collectors, those that are bringing in that 2 percent occupancy tax. As tax providers, the small guest lodging is not having a voice in marketing.”
Stokowski praised Armistead as “a good and honest man” but said her group still believed it was underrepresented.
“We want transparency; we want to be able to voice our opinions. We’re not trying to get something that we’re not entitled to under the law. It gives me pause when a citizen as highly qualified as Lynn Wilson Spohrer is overlooked time and time again. I think it’s a pity we’re not looking at people who have talent in our community,” she said.
This is all-volunteer. She’s not looking for a job. Instead of increasing the tax dollars, let’s increase the occupancy of those people coming into our county. All that we’re asking is that the TDC be run more efficiently and more effectively,” said Stokowski.
Jackel said Armistead’s company owned the Buccaneer Inn on St. George Island, making him a small lodging provider and that he maintains an office in Apalachicola.
“What I’m hearing is that this is no reflection on (Armistead),” Sanders said. “They just want some representation too.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said, “I’ve said it a thousand times and I’m not going to say anything else this morning. It continually falls on deaf ears. I’ve told y’all the lodging providers over here wanted representation. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. I don’t have a problem with Mr. Armistead. I think he’ll do the county a service.”
Sanders said then referred to a passage in last week’s article, “TDC votes to recommend Armistead” in which it was reported that Jackel and Blair had left the room together and after a short time, returned.
“I’m really concerned that, reading the Apalachicola Times, the newspaper article was quoted as saying that Mr. Blair and Ms. Jackel went into the back room and then came back and said about the Roberts Rules of Order,” said Sanders. “Curt, would you get us a copy of those minutes because when you read something in the local newspaper, it is not always right.”
Jackel took exception to the Times’ description. “That’s not accurate,” she said. “I went to the back, by myself. Alan Pierce was in his office and I went in and closed the door.”
She said she and Pierce, in the room alone, tried unsuccessfully to telephone the county attorney. She said they then made a phone call “to another counsel” for advice on the tie vote.
“Curt and I did not exit the (meeting room) together and those are the facts. I have a witness on my side,” said Jackel.
“That’s the reason it had to be cleared up in public,” said Sanders.
“Next time, if you can’t get Mr. Shuler, put it on hold because he’s the county attorney,” Lockley said.