Walton County Attorney Mark Davis resigns



Less than three years into a job that seemed to keep him bouncing from one controversy to the next, Mark Davis has resigned as the Walton County attorney.

In a letter presented Monday to county commissioners and County Administrator Larry Jones, Davis announced he would be stepping down effective May 19.

“I’ve received an offer for employment that I feel is in my family’s and my best interest to accept,” the letter said.

Commissioners will vote April 25 on whether to accept the resignation, according to county spokesman Louis Svehla.

County Commissioner Sara Comander said “Mark indicated he wanted to make sure commissioners knew and wanted to talk to his staff” before news of his resignation became public.

Calls and emails to Davis’s office were not returned.

Louis Svehla, the public information officer for Walton County, made the letter available at shortly before 5 p.m. Monday.

Twice in the body of the letter Davis makes it clear he isn’t being pushed out of his job.

“I am not requesting any severance pay since this resignation is voluntary,” the letter said.

In the letter Davis tells commissioners it has been “an honor … to serve Walton County and you in this capacity.”

Davis was appointed as interim county attorney in February 2013 when then-Attorney Toni Craig fell sick. He was given the job full time that August, the same day that Jones, a long-time commissioner, was named county administrator.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

Davis stepped into the job just in time to see the troubled 32-day tenure of County Administrator Robert Halfhill come to an end. Four female employees had lodged verbal complaints against Halfhill in his short stint in Walton County and Davis vowed to investigate even after the resignation. He ultimately found the employee complaints to be justified.

It was under Davis’ watch that the Walton County Commission was forced, in early 2014, to vote retroactively to “ratify agreements” with two law firms that had negotiated BP oil spill settlements on behalf of the county and its Tourist Development Council.

The action, Davis explained to commissioners at the time, gave the board cover against a possible 2011 Sunshine Law violation perpetrated at the time when commissioners overlooked the fact that both they and the TDC were retaining the DeFuniak Springs-based Adkinson Law Firm to represent them against BP.

“It gives us an argument to say we are not liable for attorneys’ fees,” Davis told commissioners at the time.

The Florida Commission on Ethics later found no wrongdoing on the part of the law firms that negotiated the BP claims.

In 2015, Davis was called upon to turn over hundreds of records to the First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office as a grand jury investigated allegations of past impropriety within the county’s Planning Department. The investigation started when a department error was found to have resulted in a failure to collect $600,000 from a local developer.

The grand jury would find multiple other errors, and eventually called for reprimands for a county commissioner and Jones, the administrator, and vote to indict former Planning Director Patsy Blackshear on charges of perjury. An investigation by the state’s Auditor General would follow.

During Davis’s term the county would sue its own auditing firm and be ordered to pay out $175,000 in legal fees to local activist Suzanne Harris, who had sued three times alleging Sunshine Law violations and won all three times.

The county is presently embroiled in a land development quagmire with the Sandestin resort and is battling in court against wealthy beach property owners who question the county’s interpretation of the term “customary use” and its enforcement of beach signage ordinances.

Through all the legal battles, Comander said, Davis has maintained his composure and steered the county in the right direction.

“I’ve known Mark for more years than I care to admit. I’ve known him since he was a young man,” Walton County’s most veteran commissioner said. “I truly believe he is one of the most decent and finest men I have ever met. He’s a great attorney, but he’s more than that. He’s a great person.”

Comander also complimented Davis on a work ethic that saw him putting in late weekday hours and spending time in the office on weekends as well.

“That man worked himself to death,” she said.

Even Harris, Davis’s longtime adversary, had nothing bad to say about the departing attorney.

“I thought he was honest,” Harris said. “I think he tried hard. But I think after this last (commission) election, he had too many people telling him what to do.”

Comander was the only commissioner to offer comment on the Davis resignation. Commissioner Tony Anderson sent an email to say he had no comment. Commissioners Bill Chapman and Cecilia Jones did not return calls or emails.