As the campaign season enters the final stretch, its "game on" in Gulf County. Two county commission seats are up for grabs, and a citizens' group is turning up the heat on the incumbents.
About 20 members of Citizens Improving Gulf County (CIGC), a political action committee, held a rally at the courthouse entrance Tuesday morning, while county commissioners were meeting in the administration building nearby. The group is working to unseat incumbents Warren Yeager and Carmen McLemore.
Jim Garth, CIGC Chairman, said the two commissioners are serving themselves and not their fellow citizens. The committee has spent months searching public records, Garth said, and has uncovered numerous examples of improper conduct on the part of McLemore and Yeager.
"The people of Gulf County deserve to know the truth and that's what we've been all about," said Garth. "Unfortunately, we found the truth and it's not very pretty."
Garth read a statement outlining nearly a dozen allegations against the commissioners. "Misspending of our tax dollars, not handling our money properly, and misrepresenting the people of Gulf County," he said.
CIGC said it was improper for McLemore to accept an $11,400 per week job with a BP subcontractor soon after the county dropped a lawsuit against the oil company. "I was well qualified to take that job with BP and I did," said McLemore. "I violated no rules, I was investigated with the FDLE, even looked at with the grand jury [and] they found no wrongdoing with that… I was entitled to work just like anybody else."
Yeager was accused of using county funds for expensive hotel rooms while on county business. "[He] stays in four and five star resorts that we pay for... in some cases over two hundred dollars per night," said Garth. "Why should we pay for his apparent vacations?"
Yeager said conferences – such as those hosted by the Florida Association of Counties – are often held at high-priced resort properties, but the association negotiates group rates that are lower than standard pricing. He denied spending lavishly on the county's dime. "Those allegations are absolutely false," said Yeager.
Garth said the CIGC had run into "roadblocks" in its attempts to document the charges against the commissioners. "We just want a transparent government," he said. "We don't care if you're Republican, Democrat, independent or a man from Mars... we just want to have the right type of government."
Yeager and McLemore said the committee's claims are nothing more than politics at its worst.
"My record speaks for itself and that's what I run on... I'm not going to get involved in their negative tactics," said Yeager. "These people have a hatred for our community, they have malice and they're expressing that through this."
"Their whole goal is to try to destroy a commissioner that sits on this board," said McLemore. "I feel kind of sorry for them because apparently they don't have anything else to do."
McLemore, a Democrat, has one challenger for his District 1 seat in the August 14 primary; the winner will face the Republican candidate in the general election. Yeager, a Republican, has two challengers in the primary and the winner will have no opposition for the District 5 seat in November.