Following concerns raised by Holmes County Commissioner Brandon Newsom, the charter for the Holmes County Development Commission–enacted in 1959–will be reviewed to see if any changes are necessary.
Newsom has called the charter and a project to develop a Busy Bee location at the southwest corner of Interstate-10 in Holmes County into question over concerns about not seeing a contract, unknown details about the project, and perceived lack of progress on the location.
In response, Development Commission Executive Director Joe Rone said Newsom wants control–while marketing consultant Lesley Hatfield said Newsom’s concerns are “vague.”
Newsom said his main concern with the charter is Section 11, which prohibits the creation of state and county debts. He has previously raised concerns that the county could be on the financial hook if the Busy Bee project does not come to fruition.
“They’re violating their own charter,” Newsom said.
Rone said the charter does not need changes or updates and he doesn’t think county commissioners have the power to change the charter. In response, Newsom said county commissioners are entrusted to oversee the Development Commission, based on regulations set forth when the Development Commission was created by the state legislature.
No Development Commission board members have raised concerns, Hatfield said.
Discussion about the possibility of the charter review was mentioned during a Holmes County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
“Things have been done without the county’s knowledge and I just don’t feel comfortable in the way this is headed,” Newsom said during the Nov. 28 meeting. “I’m just curious as to how we’re going to move forward with the budgeting process. I know, as stated in the last meeting, we’ve got about two years worth of funding left. Then we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do.”
The Development Commission charter is “stagnant,” Newsom said.
“It was pretty much created when we didn’t have Amazon or the internet, for God’s sake,” Newsom. “It’s 60 years old. Shingles got to be replaced quicker than this has been amended.”
County Commissioner Clint Erickson said project development, such as with Busy Bee, takes time.
“I think Nov. 21 is one year from the time the Development Commission came out and looked at this project,” Erickson said. “We can sit back and we can do a lot of things but we can’t rush something. They’re a private company. It’s going to be a good thing when it comes to Holmes County.”
Erickson further said he didn’t think the Nov. 28 meeting was “the place to discuss this right now when we don’t really have everything in our hand.”
Erickson disagreed when Newsom said there is no oversight.
“There is oversight. There’s oversight being done,” Erickson said. “We appoint somebody on that board. They are the oversight for that board. They’re the oversight for the director. They’re the oversight for everybody. If we feel like they’re not doing their job, it comes back to us to say why are you not doing your job?”
County Attorney Nate Nolin said while “everything” has been “done in good faith,” there needed to be “more transparency” and communication among parties.
“We’re showing a lot of deference to the Development Commission to fulfill their function,” Nolin said during the Nov. 28 meeting. “Their whole function and existence is to bring development into the county and to be able to do things that we cannot do. I think there’s been a lot of miscommunication, potentially, and maybe the guards have been put up.”
A lot of the project “needs to be done with an element of confidentiality,” Nolin said.
“I think no one disagrees with that,” Nolin continued. “I think the biggest concern is how we do get them here and we do have a loan now with an interest payment that needs to be paid. If we do feel like we’re going to be out further than what we initially thought, maybe we revisit that bond issue where we know what our structured payments are going to be.”
Newsom said he is “completely against implementing a tax for any purpose” regarding such an option.
The Development Commission is needed “greatly” as Holmes County “continues to grow,” Nolin said.
Rone and others familiar with the project said a contract is in place and development is moving forward with Busy Bee. Rone did not publicly speak at the Nov. 28 meeting but, in an interview the day after the meeting, said Newsom is against new business and growth in Holmes County.
Newsom denied those claims when reached for comment and said he and Rone “oversold” the Busy Bee project to county commissioners “just to create this debt.”
Rone and Hatfield also said Newsom had not attended a Development Commission board meeting in 2023. When asked about this, Newsom said he could not recall if he attended a meeting but he has kept up with meeting minutes and audio.
Newsom further said Development Commission board meetings–which have been held around noon–tend to be at the same time as county commissioner meetings.
Newsom further said a “major reason” he did not attend meetings is because the Sunshine Law, which promotes government transparency, discourages government luncheon meetings since the public is usually not willing to attend at that time of the day.
A follow-up discussion about the Development Commission is on the agenda for a Board of County Commissioners meeting scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at 107 E. Virginia Ave. in Bonifay.