Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

Columbia County Clerk P. DeWitt Cason
Stands up for the rule of law

The Columbia County Commission, long known for among other things, rudeness and flying by the seat of its pants was dealt a blow by long time constitutional officer, Clerk of the Courts, the Honorable P. DeWitt Cason, when he refused to sign two ordinances which were not available for public inspection for the time required by the Florida Statutes.

On April 2, 2009 the County Commission held a public hearing to enact two ordinances imposing a one year moratorium on its impact fees. Florida statutes say that an ordinance is supposed to be available for inspection for ten days prior to the public hearing. The Impact Fee Moratorium Ordinances were not.

Throughout the United States and in the state of Florida notice requirements are strictly enforced by the courts. This means that if the law says an ordinance is to be available for inspection for ten days prior to a public hearing, it means ten days.

On March 26, seven days before the scheduled public hearing, the county was advised by its Tallahassee law firm, Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson, that the final versions of the ordinances were being forwarded to the county “for the County’s use next week in considering the suspension of the ... impact fees.”

At the public hearing, neither County Attorney Marlin Feagle, nor County Manager Dale Williams, could produce any documentation showing that the ordinances were in the possession of the county for the required ten days prior to the public hearing. The intractable Columbia County Commission was undeterred. Rather than re-notice the hearing to comply with the law, the County Commission continued with the public hearing and passed the ordinances.

On April 3d in a brief conversation with Clerk Cason, Mr. Cason told the Observer that he was made aware of the proceedings of the County Commission and he had a call in to the county attorney, Marlin Feagle.

On Sunday, April 5th, Mr. Cason told the Observer, “He [county attorney Marlin Feagle] didn’t call me back. They need to set aside the vote and re-advertise.”

On Tuesday, April 7, the Observer called the county seat and asked to speak with the County Manager regarding the unsigned ordinances and the need to re-advertise.

A member of the county staff advised the Observer that the county manager had someone in his office, but that she would go in and speak with him. A little while later she came back to the phone with this message: Per Dale. [County Manager Dale Williams] We are going to tell all these people to call the Clerk’s office and they can explain why they are not getting their money.

Due to the impending Easter Holiday, Thursday, April 9th was the last day the Clerk of the Courts could sign the ordinance and send it off to Tallahassee for it to become the law of Columbia County. The Clerk’s office was still waiting for County Attorney Marlin Feagle to return their call.

At 6:15 p.m. on April 9th the Observer spoke with County Manager Dale Williams about the Clerk of the Courts upholding the law and not signing the ordinances.

The Observer:  It looks like DeWitt [The Hon. P DeWitt Cason] didn’t sign the ordinance.

Dale Williams:  There are a lot of people waiting for their money. We’re going to give them his number and he can explain why they are not getting it.

The Observer:  When you knew the ordinance wasn’t available ten days prior to the hearing, why didn’t you re-advertise it the day after the board meeting? You could have been having the public hearing at the next board meeting.

Dale Williams:  My staff is telling me they had it.