Planning commission meeting gets heated as member rejects board’s resignation request

The January 3 meeting of Washington County Planning Commission quickly became heated as board member Mark Odom was presented with a letter officially asking for his resignation by his fellow board members.

“This is something that I did not want to do,” said Planning Commission Chairman David Morris, who was tasked with drafting the letter after members of the board expressed allegations that Odom misrepresented an alleged conversation with Chipley Mayor Tracy Andrews regarding her input on the county’s comprehensive plan.

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“It was agreed appropriate first by the Planning Commission that a letter be provided requesting your resignation, and I as Chairman have been given this unpleasant task,” wrote Morris in the letter. “ … It is the request of the planning Commissioners’ present the evening of Nov. 01, 2021 meeting that you resign as Planning Commissioner District 4 appointee and is based on information provided to the board at that time. Poor attendance, late arrivals, to include walking out mid meeting has been noted … The recent unprecedented public outcry of the unresolved land use on Hutchinson Rd. and Sorrells Rd. property owned in part by you has resulted in the public expressing concerns of the integrity of the Planning Board, Senior planner, County staff and others involved.”

Odom, who read the letter aloud during the meeting, vehemently expressed his disagreement.

“I reject this resignation,” said Odom. “I will not resign, and I believe that the chairperson and the co-chairperson [John Gay] have libeled themselves by making accusations that I said things … that are blatantly untrue. If anyone has libeled this county or has libeled the integrity of this planning board, it is [Morris and Gay]. And anyone who is guilty of aligning themselves with these two based on false information – I want to make that perfectly clear because the audio is clear – that I never said what these men have accused me of, and it’s yours to hear, in the meeting minutes., black and white.”

Chairman Morris pointed out that the alleged conversation with the mayor was not referenced in the letter; however, Odom asserted that 

“It’s been said in the minutes and in previous meetings,” replied Odom. “Ya’ll said that I lied when I did not, so that makes you, a liar.”

In reference to the property on Hutchinson Road, Odom stated the land use was appropriate and transparent, especially because he was on the planning and zoning board, adding that none of the other board members attended the Board of County Commissioners meeting to view his Powerpoint presentation regarding the land use application.

Odom also referenced  recently a recently passed bill that expanded legislative support for home-based businesses in Florida, a bill that supersedes local ordinances on the issue.

“People should be able to build their home where they want to and run their neighborhood business as they see fit, and the good news is that Gov. Ron DeSantis agrees with me. Scott Plakon, who drafted that legislation and got it approved has told me personally if there’s a problem with it to contact his office.”

Chairman Morris reiterated that the request for the resignation rests largely on “unprecedented public outcry” following a neighborhood meeting associated with actions taken on the land use. Odom went on to state he and his attorney were not notified of that meeting, resulting in him not being able to address the issue with the public.

“Ya’ll have brought a gray color to my integrity and to my reputation over a building,” he said.

Co-Chairman John Gay concluded discussion on the issue by stating that no one on the board had called Odom “a liar.”

“No one to my knowledge on this board ever called Mr. Odom a liar,” said Gay. “I don’t think you will find that word used at all. You will find that words used was ‘inaccurate information.’”

The issue re-emerged during the public participation portion of the meeting, during which time Morris’ wife, Karen Morris, addressed the board about a code enforcement compliance investigation that was launched into land use changes made on the Morris property, an action she inferred was retaliation by Odom.

Karen Morris stated the complaint centered around a mobile home placed on the site for her father, who has since passed away.

“To attack David Morris or Karen Morris would have been one thing, but to attack a deceased WWII veteran is beyond despicable,” she said. “So if the person who requested that investigation was here today, I would ask them why they did that, why they felt it necessary to attack a man who fought for their rights…”

Records show that the inquiry, made Oct. 26 by Kristi Miller Novonglosky, Odom’s attorney, was closed as “unfounded.”

When asked what the next step in the procedure in the other members’ efforts to remove Odom from the board, County Attorney Matt Fuqua appeared unsure if the letter had any meaning if the Board of County Commissioners, which is tasked with appointments to the planning board, did not take any action.

I don’t know that the planning commission has the authority to do anything other than rule on planning issues such as land use, special exceptions, and development orders,” said Fuqua.