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Decide For Yourself!

Decide For Yourself!

The following email was sent to all County Commissioners and the County Attorney this morning by a member of the Wakulla Wetlands Alliance.  This email is a matter of public record.  At the end of this email, I will share videos of the event this gentleman is referring to.  I invite you to take a look and decide for yourself!

Date: November 8, 2013

To: The Board of County Commissioners and Heather Encinosa, County Attorney

I am contacting all of you to register a formal complaint about the manner in which this past Monday’s Commission meeting was conducted.  While I think we can all accept that there can be strong differences of opinion on specific issues, I was taken aback that Commissioner Ralph Thomas would engage in gratuitous personal attacks on me and other members of a non-partisan, all-volunteer citizen’s group. His calling us hypocrites was defamatory and using a public meeting for these attacks strikes me as not only unethical, but also an abuse of his power as a public official. The use of a power point presentation in doing this was clear evidence that this was not a momentary lapse of judgment, but a premeditated attempt to discredit citizens whose taxes go to pay his salary and who have a right to expect honesty and common decency from their commissioners. In addition, it was a cowardly act in that he knew that there would be no opportunity for those citizens he was maligning to challenge the factual bases of his presentation.  Rather than present persuasive evidence of the wisdom of eliminating buffers and local protection of wetlands, his goal appeared to be to create division and conflict among the citizenry and distract them from the substantive issues involved.  I also believe that Chairman Merritt was negligent in not redirecting Mr. Thomas’s presentation once the inflammatory and personal nature of it was evident.

Commissioner’s Thomas’s showing of aerial photographs of our properties in comparison to the others was deliberately misleading and disingenuous in leaving out the historical context of the development of these properties.  He and the other commissioners know full well that much of the development in this county in the past was done without full knowledge of the environmental consequences and would not and should not be allowed today. That does not mean that we should tear down those homes and businesses, since they were built within the regulations of their day, but it does mean that we should look for constructive ways to mitigate their impact. By this I mean not only being mindful of wetland buffers, but also looking for constructive, cost-effective ways to expand the sewer system and avoid construction practices (e.g. seawalls) that often protect one person’s property but cause erosion elsewhere. The fact that something was allowed in the past is not cause to continue down that path when we now know of the detrimental consequences. It is also manifestly untrue and provocative that those of us in the Wakulla Wetlands Alliance are selfishly trying to keep others from enjoying the beauties of our county. Just the reverse, we want to preserve what is here and allow others to do so into the future by adhering to best environmental management and development practices.

Lastly, I wish to comment specifically about what I found so upsetting in Mr. Thomas’s attack upon me.  My wife and I had purchased our lot with an existing home and sewer connection from Benny and Carolyn Lovel in 1997 who had lived there since 1982.   After having been flooded a couple of times, we decided to bite the bullet and rebuild in essentially the same footprint, but up on pilings as required by the 2002 State regulations.  We had the DEP do a wetlands delineation of the property in 2003 and the Wakulla County Building Department approved and permitted our site plan in September 2003. We then had Habitat for Humanity come down and harvest what they could from the old house before tearing it down.  

The most blatant misrepresentation in Mr. Thomas’ presentation was his showing an aerial photograph of our property that was from December 2003, after our first house had been razed and before the new one was completed 12 months later, and then claiming that there had been no house there prior to that. He also stated that we never would be allowed to build there under the current ordinances. That is simply not true due to the exceptions provided under “continuous use” of a property, the fact that the new house was built in the footprint of the old one and is well within the 35’ -75’ buffer available with a variance.  Further, even if there had never been a house there, we have sufficient uplands that we could have built with a 75′ setback and would have done so had the cleared area, lift station and sewer line not already been in place. My wife and I have also been excellent stewards, increasing the vegetative buffer near the wetlands and doing various native plantings to support and attract wildlife. When we purchased the property, one could see the bay and wetlands from Shady Sea St. Now, due to our management and the vegetative growth, that is no longer possible.  Unlike most other coastal properties, our house is barely visible from the bay because we have kept and encouraged the growth of native trees and bushes along the wetlands edge. Mr. Thomas has also attacked us in social media for having constructed in 2009 a boardwalk, kayak launch and pier out to Stuart Cove. This construction was properly permitted by both the DEP and the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007 and by the Wakulla County Department of Planning and Community Development in 2008. It is allowable under the current ordinances.

In conclusion, I feel that Commissioner Thomas should publicly apologize to me and the other citizens he attacked for misrepresenting the facts regarding our properties and creating unnecessary division in the community by focusing on personal rather than substantive issues. Commissioner Thomas’ actions have created a dangerous precedent and hopefully will not be repeated. As a safeguard and in the interest of fairness, I believe that the BOCC should change their policy and allow a person in the audience to speak if a commissioner raises a point about them personally or their property. I also hope that all the commissioners will recognize their responsibility to model more constructive discourse in the future. I pledge to do the same.


James Hennessey




Mr. Hennessey spoke before I did, at that meeting.  Notice his comments about me and a Wakulla Property owner.

This is my presentation that prompted Mr. Hennessey’s letter.


Tell me what you think in the comment block below!


14 Responses to “Decide For Yourself!”

  1. Patricia Tadlock says:

    One can only conclude that the mission statement of a Liberal must be, “Do as I say, not as I do”.

  2. Logan Spencer says:

    The fact the land owner is a realtor from Florida or a local is irrelevant. Is there a “locals only” club that get access to what they want over anyone else in Wakulla?

    Fair and equal rights should be given to each and every land owner.

  3. Kelly says:

    Funny..that’s it’s ok for those folks to attack the commissioners and do PowerPoint presentations regarding commissioners properties. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Everything’s all ok until their faults are pointed out!

    Good job Commisioner Thomas!

  4. Kathi Acker says:

    “In deception the truth is perceived as rebellion” (unknown)

  5. Robert Roddenberry says:

    Is this jealously over others profiting from prudent investments, or is it greed in trying to take from others what you already have. These hypocrits just don’t get it.

  6. Wilene Matherne says:

    That’s like the pot calling the kettle black. Mr. Hennessey has consistently attacked Commissioner Thomas, both at the BOCC meetings and in the letters to the editor in The Wakulla News. It seems strange that he has the audacity to accuse Commissioner Thomas of attacking him when Commissioner Thomas is bringing out pertinent facts that the citizens of this county need to be aware of. I am proud that Commissioner Thomas is doing what the voters elected him to do.

  7. Political Peril says:

    Who cares about the WWA? What a bunch of socialists! James Hennessey is a big cry baby. Nobody pays any attention to them unless it is to laugh at their antics.

  8. Boris says:

    Ralph, You do a great job trying to return to the people of the Wakulla County their Property Rights. We must win this battle with those hypocrites who want to be “more equal than others”.

    “Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can.” Samuel Adams

  9. Pat says:

    Thanks Ralph. You’re doing exactly what you were elected to do. I say great job and keep up the good work. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but you have the integrity and persistence to get the job done. I applaud you.

  10. John Franklin Burns Jr says:

    The facts are the facts and Mr.Thomas has a done a nice job of presenting us with those facts.

  11. Chuck says:

    Good job Ralph, Keep up the good work.

  12. Jeff says:

    I know a Marxist pig when I see it wallowing in the marsh.

  13. Cyndi says:

    My problem with the WWA is its method. A referendum does not allow for the “voice of the people” but rather a referendum forces citizens into a “yes” or “no” vote on an old ordinance that can not be changed except through a 5 to 0 commission vote (tyranny by one) or another referendum that again allows only a “yes” or “no” vote on new language written by a very few people with a specific interest. The people’s voice however is actually heard when we have full, open elections where commissioners are “hired” or “fired” based on their ability to speak for the people. If people really want to protect their voice they should understand that at the same time as this potential referendum vote could appear on the ballot they will have the right to elect or reject at least two commissioners based on their performance. The right to vote for our elected representatives actually does reflect the voice of the people.

    Having said all of this,however, I do believe that Mr. Henessey has displayed appalling hypocracy and I say this based on his own actions:

    His statements criticized Mr. Thomas and the Wakulla taxpayer from Havana as being “deceptive” and “meanspirited”. In fact Mr. Hennessey was both ugly and condescending toward the way an honest citizen makes his living while perversely believing it perfectly acceptable to make horrendous and unprovable accusations about both. As far as I could tell Mr. Thomas made no accusations about Mr. Hennessey’s right to have a wetlands’ home and indeed went out of his way to say that, to his knowledge, there were no illegalities nor special exemptions made in the building process.

    In addition, Mr. Henessey’s sense of entitlement seemed to be directly in opposition to his claim that wetlands needed to be preserved for the “common good”. It is so interesting to hear a wetlands’ landowner talk about the “common good” while emphasizing the personal pleasure he takes in both nature and bird watching. It is almost as though others should not enjoy from their decks that which Mr. Hennessey sees in his backyard but rather the masses should be allowed to enjoy them but ony from a few designated areas where there may or may be a bench. Definitely the “common good” does not include an adirondack chair such as the one Mr. Hennessey was sitting in when he was interviewed recently by a local television network.

    I actually enjoyed the way Mr. Henessey stomped out of the commission meeting when a reference was made to something he was not in agreement with. Week after week our commissioners, all five of them, are suppose to sit and impartially listen to the statements, the opinions, the opposition views, and the contentious language of the people. It makes me breath a little easier that we have our current Board of Commissioners rather than the less patient, less tolerant members of the audience that we so often have to suffer through as they piously make their rude and frequently self promoting statements.

  14. wel says:

    Nicely done Commissioner, you are well spoken and have presented facts. I defended this country’s freedom, and that includes the freedom to use MY property, the property that I worked and paid for, however I choose.

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