If Collier County doesn't pay Dune Chamberlain the $62,000 it owes him today, he said he could lose his business.
In fact, to keep All Ways Electric afloat these last couple of weeks, Chamberlain and his wife have dipped into her surgery deductible, raided their son's graduation fund and are now selling personal possessions to make payroll. The couple opened the business in 2005.
"It's heartbreaking," he said. "We started this business in our living room and had up to 65 employees at one time. Because of the economic situation, we scaled back and moved to this office and we have worked hard to keep our employees employed."
Chamberlain is one of the subcontractors who worked on the Marco Island Executive Airport taxiway expansion. Collier County Clerk Dwight Brock has refused to pay the $1 million still owed on the project because he said the land was not zoned properly.
But, at the 11th hour, Chamberlain got some good news — Brock will be making a payment to DeAngelis Diamond, the general contractor for the project, Chamberlain and Commission Chairman Fred Coyle said Thursday evening. Brock will pay the total bill.
"I appreciate Mr. Brock and the commissioners getting this handled over the last couple of days. This will help our company and I can't say enough about that," he said. "I'm so happy, I don't know what to say."
The decision came after Chamberlain sent emails to Brock and the commissioners Wednesday, making a plea to resolve the issue of the taxiway as quickly as possible.
"Please help my wife and I not lose this company, put people out of work; we did what was asked," he said.
Brock's initial decision not to pay the $1 million tab put him at odds with the majority of commissioners. They voted this week to approve staff's clarification that a portion of the taxiway was in compliance with the county laws. Commissioner Georgia Hiller was the lone dissenter.
Chamberlain's email shocked and angered Coyle.
"I did not understand it was so serious for our subcontractors," Coyle said. "They have had to endure delays in payment. And there is nothing illegal about this. No one is improperly benefitting from this situation. We are not breaking any laws."
Coyle directed his frustration at Brock, saying his stubbornness was keeping the bills from being paid.
"He makes up his mind on the interpretation of the law and he is frequently wrong," he said. "I think we should replace the clerk and I am happy to petition the governor to that effect. He's done severe damage to this community. Who is going to want to do economic development here?"
Brock said Thursday he "feels very bad for everyone who is suffering because of this issue ... No one wants this to happen and everyone wants a solution."
Brock said the county would not have this problem if staff would "do things properly."
"I cannot make them do things properly," he said. "There is nothing I can do about that."
The state Attorney General tells him that as clerk, he is the auditor of county funds and Florida Statute 129.09 prohibits him from paying a bill that is illegal, Brock said.
"Commissioner Coyle doesn't think we need to follow the law, that we should do what we want and common sense should prevail," he said. "My common sense is dictated to me by both houses of the state Legislature. That's what guides me."
"(Coyle) said seven years ago I was wrong. Everything he said I was wrong about, I was proven right," he said, referring to the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that he has the right to audit bank accounts containing county money.
Brock said he can't make decisions in a vacuum. Further, he said the county is in the process of changing the land development code to allow aviation use on the portion of the taxiway that was zoned incorrectly. That proposal is on the county's website.
"The objective is not to fight over who is right and wrong," he said. "The important thing is to try and correct the issue and move on. That is all I am trying to do."
Chamberlain, who has done work for the county previously, said it's frustrating for businesses because the county does not pay for work until it's complete.
"So, I have to buy a $2,000 light, pay for it out of pocket and then wait until the project is 100 percent done until I get paid for it," he said. "It's hard for a small business."
Coyle said while he was happy there was a resolution, delaying payments will have a long term effect, not only on those involved, but on Collier County's reputation.
"This does not remove the problems (Brock) has created as a result of the delay," he said. "If it is okay to pay on Thursday, why was it not okay to pay on Tuesday?"
Attempts to reach Brock Thursday evening were unsuccessful. But as to why he might have changed his mind, Brock said Tuesday after the commission meeting that he would "continue to work with staff on the issues of legality."