Worley removed from planning board

The Okeechobee County commissioners voted April 25 to remove G.M. “Hoot” Worley from the County Planning Board/Board of Adjustments. Commissioners referenced Mr. Worley’s failure to obtain building permits for work done on Ramon Corona’s Northwest 160th Street property as the reason for his removal. Mr. Worley alleged the reason for removing him from the board had more to do with his opposition to granting a special exception for a restaurant at the new livestock market on Northwest 160th Street built by Greg Isbell.


Mr. Worley said he voted in favor of granting Mr. Isbell an exemption for the new livestock market when it came before the planning board two years ago, but maintained that a restaurant should not be included in an agriculture use exemption claimed under the state’s Right to Farm law. Mr. Worley said it is his opinion that a restaurant would require the property be rezoned.


The special exception for the restaurant, which the planning board turned down by a 3-3 vote when it first came before the board, is on the agenda for the next meeting. That meeting was originally planned for April 23, but was rescheduled to April 30.


County Administrator Robbie Chartier said that following a complaint made during the public comment period at the April 11 meeting, county staff investigated allegations brought against Mr. Worley for unpermitted construction. She said Mr. Worley did not deny that he had done construction without a permit, and that he maintained that he did not need a building permit because the property had been given an exemption under the Right to Farm Act. This exemption was approved by interim building official Tim English in 2010.


She said building official Eddie Moore has inspected Mr. Corona’s property and will require permits that meet the current building construction standards.


“We have checks and balances in our government,” Mr. Worley said. “Part of the checks and balances is that you have a board of adjustments that recommends exceptions.”


He said he has a four-year degree in agriculture economics, is a State of Florida certified contractor and has over 20 years’ experience on the planning board.


“During that time, I have attended every seminar that has been made available to me,” he said. “I come to the meetings prepared.”


He questioned the timing of the vote to remove him from the planning board.


“All of these allegations were made two years ago,” he said. “Your administrator, your building department were all aware of this two years ago.”


Mr. Worley said he has no conflicts in any of the upcoming cases that are coming before the board of appeals. He asked that Commissioner Bryant Culpepper recuse himself from votes involving Mr. Worley, alleging Mr. Culpepper has a conflict of interest because he recently filed an ethics complaint against the commissioner.


Mr. Worley said Commissioner Culpepper visited his office on April 15 and tried to get him to resign from the planning board.


“Mr. Culpepper made a deal with me, that if I would resign, this would all go away,” he said.


“There has been no question about my honest and integrity until the appeals court quashed Mr. Isbell’s special exception.” he continued.


“One commissioner is pushing for my removal on these charges.” Mr. Worley said. “For some reason he fears my presence on that board next Tuesday.


“On April 15, Commissioner Culpepper came into my office unannounced and uninvited,” Mr. Worley said.


He said the commissioner “threw paperwork on my desk,” and said he was going “to give me one last opportunity to resign before all hell broke loose, before Mr. Isbell came at me with everything that he had.”


Mr. Worley said the commissioner was loud and that “two people in my office could hear everything that was said.” Following that visit, he filed a complaint with the Florida Ethics Commission.


Commissioner Culpepper said Mr. Worley’s description of their April 15 conversation was “a lie.” He refused to recuse himself from voting.


“I am one of five commissioners, I could not make any promise,” said Commissioner Culpepper. “I told you it might be in your interest to consider it.”


He claimed Mr. Worley was trying to use the ethics complaint as a tool to get him to recuse himself.


“I am not going to do that,” he said.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said if someone on the construction licensing board did work without a permit, that person should be removed. She added that she was not sure if the same held true for a position on the planning board.


“There are two places in our LDRs (Land Development Regulations) where someone can ask for a special exception for a public or private retreat, a clubhouse or a camp,” explained Mr. Worley. “There are out-of-town owners that own farm product producing land that need a place to camp when they come here. Whatever you want to call it, that is what I think I built. It is the nicest camp you can imagine.


“These allegations are not a reason to kick me off the board of adjustments and appeals,” he said.


“The allegations about my unpermitted work, I am standing here and looking you right in the eye — I thought it was covered,” said Mr. Worley. “If it’s not, we will take care of that.”


When Chairman Terry Burroughs asked for a motion, commissioners at first seemed at a loss for what to do. Commissioner Culpepper made a motion that Mr. Worley be removed from the planning board. The motion died for lack of a second. The chairman asked if someone would like to make a motion to keep Mr. Worley on the board. He was met with silence.


The exemption approved by Mr. English only applied to original building, opined the chairman. Construction totaling about 5,000 square feet has been added, he said. The contractor should have had permits for the addition to the existing building, he said. “Somebody knew they should have had a permit and they didn’t get it.


“Hoot has probably made very good decisions on the planning board,” said Chairman Burroughs.


“We have a lot of contractors who are probably sitting here watching this,” he warned. He again called for a motion. This time, when Commission Culpepper made a motion to remove Mr. Worley from the planning board, Commissioner David Hazellief seconded the motion, and it passed with unanimous approval.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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