Thomas St. Myer, pnj.com --
On the heels of Escambia County commissioners voting to slash the Santa Rosa Island Authority budget in half and hand control of its Public Works Department and Public Safety Department to the County, SRIA Executive Director Buck Lee submitted his letter of resignation, effective Jan. 15.
Tammy Bohannon, the Santa Rosa Island Authority board chairwoman, announced his resignation Wednesday at the board meeting. The 68-year-old Lee left the meeting about an hour earlier, complaining of flu-like symptoms.
Board member Thomas Campanella said Lee intends to meet one-on-one with each of the board members and explain his decision. Lee called Campanella on Wednesday to break the news. Campanella said Lee spoke in a matter-of-fact tone without the slightest hint of a quiver in his voice.
Lee submitted his resignation on the same day that Public Safety Director Bob West filed his retirement papers after 12 years at SRIA. His retirement will be in effect Sept. 30, the day before the County assumes control of the department.
“If I was still working under Buck it might be different,” the 59-year-old West said. “If the board hadn’t thrown us away, I’d feel a lot differently about that.”
West described Lee as a phenomenal boss, who supported his employees and let them take risks.
SRIA hired Lee, a Pensacola native, as its executive director in April of 2005 after Hurricane Ivan depleted its budget.
“He came in after Ivan in ’05 when we were at a zero-base budget because nothing was open, everything was closed,” Campanella said. “He’s been here to build the beach back and go through the oil spill and all of that good stuff.
“He doesn’t mind going out there wearing his Ole Miss hat and talking to everybody and just getting in the midst of everything.”
Before his tenure as executive director, Lee served as county commissioner in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. He formerly owned Jack Lee Buick and Buck Lee Governmental Consulting Inc.
Board member Dave Pavlock said Lee treats everyone on the island like they just bought a Buick off of him.
“I’m sorry to see him go because he’s given 100 percent of his efforts and he’s had 100 percent respect and admiration by this board, and I think by the people on the beach and the businesses out here that are flourishing on the beach,” Pavlock said.
Fellow board member Jerry Watson said Lee excelled as an executive director for a myriad of reasons, starting first and foremost with his communication skills.
Lee tried unsuccessfully last week to persuade the county commissioners to leave SRIA alone.
The commissioners cut the $8 million SRIA budget and took control of two of its departments as the first steps in stopping beach leaseholders from paying lease fees on top of property taxes. Lease fees will be reduced by a minimum of 50 percent.
The SRIA budget is based solely on lease fees and covers expenses for lifeguards, services, salaries for 45 full-time staffers and 60 part-time staffers, and hosting events such as Bands on the Beach.
Pavlock said replacing Lee will be a gargantuan task considering the uncertain future for SRIA.
“We’re in a situation where we don’t know where we’re going to go with that,” Pavlock said. “To find someone that’s outside the organization is going to be very difficult to do because nobody’s going to want to take a job that they don’t know if it’s going to only last six months or a year or a year-and-a-half. With the staff that we have now here, I think we have talent that can continue to steer the ship in the direction we want to go.”
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