Panhandle Butterfly House director, whole board ousted

Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful severed her relationship with the longtime Panhandle Butterfly House chef and the entire house board last week, questioning the future of the Butterfly House that has already known tumultuous years.

Kevin Smith, director of Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful, confirmed to the News Journal that the organization fired Panhandle Butterfly House director Jenny Weber on June 29. Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful is the non-profit association under which the Panhandle Butterfly House operates. Weber doesn’t get paid and does volunteer work.

Smith declined a telephone interview and provided the News Journal with a written statement.

The TW Jones House on Henry Street Milton is the new home of the Panhandle Butterfly House and Nature Center.

“Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful, Inc. has had to make some tough decisions recently regarding our Panhandle Butterfly House program,” the statement read. “Adjustments are underway and you will see progress continue over the next few days. The Panhandle Butterfly House enjoys tremendous support from government officials, citizens of Milton, across Florida and beyond. The Panhandle Butterfly House will become a reality in Milton at the historic Jones House property.

“Unfortunately, there are a few disgruntled volunteers who have been withdrawn,” the statement continued. “These individuals are making false accusations and in possession of property belonging to Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful, Inc. Hopefully they will stop the false accusations and return all intellectual and real property to their rightful owner.”

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Weber, who had run the Panhandle Butterfly House since 2014, when it was still at the foot of the Navarre Bridge, told the News Journal that she and her three fellow board members were fired during the meeting Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful on June 29.

Weber said the Panhandle Butterfly House attempted to amicably part ways with Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful and establish themselves as an independent nonprofit, but they couldn’t come to an agreement.

A butterfly eats lunch on May 6, 2017, during the annual inauguration of the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre.

“We had a lot of decisions that needed to be made on the spot, so we wanted to part ways amicably and peacefully while still being affiliates,” Weber said. “This is kind of where all the problems started.”

Weber said members of Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful keep her and the old board of directors out of the Panhandle Butterfly House computers and bank accounts, which still hold around $ 40,000.

She added that after dedicating thousands of personal hours over the last few years of her time at the Butterfly House, she was devastated by how things finally turned out.

The Panhandle Butterfly House opened in 1997 at the foot of the Navarre Bridge and, at its peak, welcomed 15,000 visitors a year. It closed in 2018 when Santa Rosa County announced plans for a multi-million dollar overhaul of Navarre Park, where the Panhandle Butterfly House is located, but ultimately couldn’t come to an agreement with the direction of the butterfly house on the future of the building.

In 2020, the Panhandle Butterfly House announced plans to move into the historic TW Jones House at 4966 Henry St. in Milton. In the fall of 2020, the Butterfly House, through its parent non-profit Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful, received an Impact 100 grant of $ 106,000 to build a vivarium at Jones House.

The vivarium was not built, although Keep Santa Rosa Beautiful says it intends to follow through on construction plans.

Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.

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