Six weeks before he was set to be sworn in for another four-year term, Carrabelle Commissioner Keith Walden is stepping down.
In a surprise announcement at the outset of the Oct. 1 meeting, Walden told his colleagues that during the past week, he had gone to his employer, Franklin Correctional Institution, to submit retirement papers.
“We discovered I can’t be employed with another FRS (Florida Retirement System) provider for at least six months,” said Walden, 67.
“I cannot give up my 26 years of service to the state, so I have to resign effective Nov. 1,” he said. “If I had known this I would have never ever qualified (to run).”
Earlier this year, Carrabelle Mayor Brenda La Paz, Commissioner Frank Mathes, and Walden each secured another four-year term, since no opponents filed to challenge them in the 2020 general election.
Each of the three, elected to four-year terms in 2015, were initially slated to face the voters last fall. But in a cost-saving move, Carrabelle decided last year in 2019 to move its city elections to even-numbered years, in concert with state and local elections, where they will now be handled by the supervisor of elections office.
The move meant each of the three had a fifth year tacked on their terms; they now will not have to face voters until 2024. The two other city commissioners, Tony Millender and Cal Allen, elected in 2017, also had a fifth year tacked on to their terms, and will not voters until mid-year elections in 2022.
Walden said he was under the mistaken impression that as long as he didn’t receive a salary as city commissioner, he could continue serving. “But when I submitted my paperwork it was pretty obvious (that he could not),” he said.
“This is Florida law. I have no choice but to resign to draw my retirement that I worked 26 years for,” he said. “I hate it. I’ve enjoyed being on the city commission. I can’t just let my retirement go.”
Walden will not take part in the commission’s November proceedings, although he did signal that he supported the decision to dedicate a portion of Highway 67 in honor of John David Patton, who was killed in the line of duty.
“I would like to get this process started,” he said.
La Paz noted that city rules prevent her colleague for lobbying commissioners for a year.
“This is sad news for me,” she told Walden. “We’ve worked together for five years, through thick and thin, good and bad. You were elected by a landslide at the 2015 election; every citizen that voted voted for you. I appreciate your service.
“I hate it that we can’t have our last meeting in person,” she said.
La Paz has called for a special city commission meeting, to discuss different options for selecting Walden's successor, for this Tuesday, Oct. 13 at City Hall at 10 a.m. At this commissioners will review consideration of Florida law and the city charter to decide on a future course of action.
The mayor said the city commission likely will take up the matter of appointing Walden’s replacement formally at its Nov. 5 meeting. “We can make our decision on how to proceed at that time,” she said. “This is a serious two-year appointment. I don’t know if the commission has to appoint for this length of time.”
Because city law requires that newly -elected officials be sworn in on the second Thursday after the first Monday of the month, she and Mathes will be sworn in on Nov. 12.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Walden's retirement forces him to step down