Byron Western was hired as the Assistant Director of Public Works for Washington County at a recent commission meeting. [DIANE M. MOORE | THE NEWS AND ADVERTISER]


Chairman Tray Hawkins had his resignation called for by a citizen during the non-agenda portion of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners regular session April 20.

Benita Crittendon addressed what she called the “elephant in the room†during her time at the podium. She stated she had referred to the topic a couple of times previously but she was going to be direct about it now.  

After receiving public records she had requested involving inspector invoices from Wheeler Emergency Management Consulting, which handles the county’s FEMA projects, Crittendon pointed out that Hawkins’ father, John Hawkins, works for Wheeler as an inspector. She stated over the course of the past six months, Wheeler had been paid $124,750 for that position which averages $20,700 a month. Crittendon specified that he is not making that monthly; the amount is being paid to Wheeler. Crittendon said she is troubled that it shows a pattern of behavior of the chairman and his family being involved in county projects.

The second issue Crittendon raised concerned Jessica Hawkins Lipford, the chairman’s sister and former county employee. Lipford raised a lawsuit against the county, and as part of the settlement, she separated from the county. 

“As part of her duties while employed by the county, she helped to procure the sale of county owned property, primarily in Sunny Hills. Right before her separation from the county, she helped put together and finalize the attainment of 220 county owned lots back to Deltona. Shortly after her separation she became the administrator of Homes by Deltona and since then has been able to offer heavy equipment contracts to the chairman’s brother-in-law in Sunny Hills. This same brother-in-law has had FEMA contracts under the county and is currently subcontracting under a county FEMA contractor,†Crittendon said. 

“A second brother-in-law has also, in the past couple of years, obtained a very good job working for the broadband company that the county is doing business with. According to Facebook posts from the chairman’s very own sister, her husband not only got a job for the broadband company, he also obtained his contractor license and is now laying the foundation pads for the towers used by the broadband company. There are more issues but these are the highlights that lend to the pattern of behavior,†Crittendon continued.

Crittendon says she has spoken with several of the commissioners over the years and has brought these issues to their attention and is now doing it publicly so all of them know on the record. 

“At this moment I am going to, and I don’t expect anything to happen but I am going to publicly do it,†Crittendon said. “I am going to ask for the resignation of Mr. Hawkins from the Florida Association of Counties Board, from the chairman position of this board and as commissioner of Washington County,â€.

As Crittendon spoke during the non-agenda portion of the meeting, the board is not required to respond in any manner. However, the News reached out to Hawkins for his response to the accusations. 

“I stand behind every decision I have ever made for the county,†Hawkins said. “As for the private sector, I have no control over who they hire or fire. I would never give my family a leg up or put myself in that kind of position of control.â€

Byron Western was hired as the Assistant Director of Public Works for Washington County at a recent commission meeting. [DIANE M. MOORE | THE NEWS AND ADVERTISER]
In other business, Byron Western was hired to fill Danny Jackson’s assistant public works director position when Jackson retires later in the year. The board approved the application for a Community Development Block Grant in the amount of $3.4 million for infrastructure improvements. Engineer David Melvin said the funds would be used to improve the water, sewage, natural gas and rail spur at the new county industrial park as part of Project Gantry. 

Several change orders were approved on FEMA road paving projects for time extensions. The contractors asked for the extensions and were granted but not without questions from the board.

“Is this the last extension we are going to be asked for,†Commissioner Wesley Griffin asked. “I am tired of 30 days after 30 days. We need to get FEMA closed and focus more on county business.â€

“This should be the last of the requests,†Engineer Donald Stanley answered.

Eagle Scout Candidate Braden Brooks came before commissioners asking for permission to perform his Eagle project at Daniels Lake Park. Brooks was approved to replace wooden fencing at the park to help him earn his Eagle Scout rank in Chipley’s Troop 39.

The commissioners will meet again for a workshop at 9 a.m. May 11.