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Washington Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) Chairman David Pettis and County Administrator Jeff Massey will handle task orders for work by contractor Wheeler Emergency Management Consulting in April, May, and June on a case-by-case basis.

The BOCC approved a motion authorizing the discretion during a March 14 meeting.

The case-by-case basis came after the BOCC again talked about a stop in work reimbursements from FEMA, due to a request from information brought about by concerns from citizens over perceptions roads were being unfairly paved for private people and changes to road work order design–the latter involving a change in inches on asphalt.

In response to resident Benita Crittendon asking how much the county was in debt for due to the unpaid reimbursements, County Clerk Lora Bell said $9 million.

“What happens if we don’t continue with these task orders?” Commissioner David Corbin said. “Like (Commissioner Wesley) Griffin said, we’re all scared about the money. I don’t want to spend anymore until we know something for sure.” 

Griffin said since the other contractors were put on hold, perhaps the County should put Wheeler on hold until the money is situated.

“I don’t want to lose (Worley Road),” Corbin said. “I don’t want to lose anymore than I have to. I don’t want any extra work. Just what’s moving.”

Griffin said he wants to move forward with the “most pressing stuff.”

“I just think, moving forward, like Commissioner Pettis and Commissioner Corbin said, we need to concentrate on what’s most pressing for the County and take care of that and be done with FEMA and get back to County business,” Griffin said. “How are we going to pay back $9 million in debt? Who’s going to pay it back? That’s the big question.”

Griffin later clarified his comments about being done with FEMA.

“(After) Michael and Sally, I’m getting ready for the next one,” Griffin said. “Let’s prepare for the next disaster. That’s where I’m at with it. I’m not saying be done with FEMA. We’re always going to need FEMA. I’m just tired of Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Sally. It’s been five years. Let’s get this done and prepare for the next disaster is what I’m saying.”

Corbin said he wanted Wheeler to give the state or FEMA paperwork so the County is reimbursed.

“What if we don’t get reimbursed?” Griffin said. “How are we going to get our money?”

“We’re not,” Pettis said. “The County’s going to pay that debt.”

“Who’s responsible for that not being done proper?” Griffin responded. “The engineers? Wheeler? That’s my question. Why are we in this position?”

Griffin further said someone will be responsible for the debt and it will not be taxpayers.

“We hired you and the engineers to design this,” Griffin said to Wheeler. “Taxpayers didn’t design it.”

A written response addressing the matter is expected from FEMA by the end of the month and the BOCC should know how to move forward by the next meeting, Commissioner Trey Hawkins said. 

Based on conversations with the state and FEMA, the County makes sure they have any requested information, Massey said.

“As far as I know today, they have everything they need to make any determinations,” Massey said. “It is in review at FEMA and, from the conversations I was able to attend on that, they’re determining that whole two-inch/one-and-a-half thing. It’s a deviation from the scope of work and that’s what they’re looking at.”

The conversation with FEMA was “positive,” Massey further said. 

“We’ve learned though FEMA and this whole process that we’re at their mercy right now,” Pettis said. 

The possibility of Wheeler being under investigation by the FBI, as discussed in the community, has been mentioned by County officials in recent months during public meetings. The details of any such investigation are currently unknown.

Wheeler President and Owner Jason Wheeler had no comment when asked about an investigation in January by Washington County News.

FBI Jacksonville Public Affairs Officer Amanda W. Videll said, as standard practice, the FBI does not confirm nor deny the existence or status of any investigation.