Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.


Columbia County News


County Commission Puts Private Gain Ahead of Public Trust.
Columbia County’s Working Families Take It On the Chin -- Again.

Part I

$9,100 represents more money coming out of Columbia County’s till, which the Good Old Boys continue to treat like their own private treasure chest.

Columbia County Florida (posted Nov. 24, 2008)
By Stew Lilker

On November 20, 2008, in another brazen assault on the public trust, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners (BCC) and the County Manager, Dale Williams, looked the other way as contract engineer John Colson insulted the working families of Columbia County by refusing to detail his billing hours and then, adding insult to injury, referred to a Columbia County resident, or  residents, who questioned his billing practices as the "audience idiot.

While the Board of County Commissioners takes great pride on the installation  of GPS tracking devices on county graders, enabling them to tell where and what  a $12 an hour  grader operator is doing every second of the work day, when  it comes to the $111 an hour John Colson, they take as much pride in making sure  he is completely unaccountable.

2008_1016_Colson Invoice_detail 2

Other than a letter head, this is all the detail in the invoice that the Board approved for John Colson on the night of October 16, 2008

$9,100 rubber stamped by the County Commission without a word of supporting documentation.

This story really begins at the October 16, 2008 BCC meeting, when Mr. Colson, as he has been doing for years, again submitted an invoice with nothing  more than a lump sum number. It said in relevant part: "Due: 10/30/08; 82 hours @ $111 per hour  --  Amount due -- $9,102." That was it, with not one  word more of explanation, Mr. Colson submitted a bill the same way he has been  doing it for years. $9,102 for two weeks of work.

In our sister county, Union County, that represents more than six months of  work for the average worker. In Columbia County, where the money comes from to  pay Mr. Colson,  ninety one hundred dollars represents about five months of work  for the average worker. For Mr. Colson, $9,100 represents more money coming out of the Columbia County grab bag, which the Good Old Boys continue to treat like their own private treasure chest.

Your reporter, who is also a resident and property owner in Columbia County,  and the editor of the ColumbiaCountyObserver.com, after watching the County Commission rubber stamping Mr. Colson's undocumented invoices month after month, addressed the Board. The conversation went like this:

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:               Item five is a invoice from Donald F Lee and Associates and it is  for the services rendered by a Mr. John Colson, who performs the services of  county engineer for the county.

    THE OBSERVER:          It appears to be in the land that I come from, this is two weeks worth of work  for nine thousand dollars ... but there's nothing specifically stating what jobs  he worked on and how much time he worked and what we're paying $9,102 for. It  just says 82 hours. I would respectfully request that until the board has a  chance to look at these items that to approve a lump sum of $9,102  is at  this stage of the game, I would think, a little irresponsible. There is no  backup. I have never seen any backup for all the time I've been looking at this.  If we are going to pay Mr. Colson $110 dollars an hour, I for one think the  board should know what you are paying $110 an  hour for... This has been going on for sometime... I would ask that this be pulled  until the board gets some information that shows you what you are spending  $9,000 for.

    CHAIRMAN WEAVER:             Thank you Mr. Lilker. Mr. Williams, do you choose to respond?

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:           The Boards' pleasure. Obviously the invoice was for 82 hours. The diaries that are kept (emphasis added) justifies the time spent. I don't know  whether that's what you are looking for or whether you want an itemized bill,  much like Marlin [County Attorney Marlin Feagle] would prepare, which actually  tells you specifically, hour for hour, day by day what project was being worked  on, what site was being visited, or etc. We've never asked him to keep that type  of detail, but I know you can extrapolate it from the diary. And so, it's  really the board's pleasure.

    CHAIRMAN WEAVER:             (to the Board)  Anybody wish to pull it off. Not seeing anyone...

The County Commission, unanimously voted to pay the  invoice without a shred of evidence or asking to see the "diary" that County  Manager Dale Williams said existed.

Earlier that evening, the Board proved once again that  there shall be no arms length transactions in Columbia County. Richard Powell, of Powell and Jones, the county's external auditors and accountants, gave his presentation of the audit to the Board. In discussing a small accounting fault in the Clerk's office, he said the Clerks office, "Had one small one (error) regarding  travel vouchers. We found one instance where per diem payment was accidentally miscalculated and the employee was over paid. We recommend that travel vouchers  be carefully reviewed prior to being paid."

It is unknown why Mr. Powell, never picked up the absence of any justification for the invoices of John Colson.

This part of the story concluded at the end of the  meeting, when the Observer again addressed the Board regarding the invoices of  John Colson.

    THE OBSERVER:       Com. Williams said that he doesn't want to accept  invoices without justification. That's what he said earlier, right? Commissioner Williams said that. 

    COMMISSIONER RONALD WILLIAMS:           I said what?

    THE OBSERVER:       Somebody want to help him  please.                       

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:         He's referring to your comment, the last comment you made, where you directed  staff to make sure that in the future there is support on the agenda for the  invoice that is submitted, as opposed to just the hours. 

    COMMISSIONER RONALD WILLIAMS:         And that will cut out some filibustering?  


    COMMISSIONER RONALD WILLIAMS:           That's the reason I want it done. 

    THE OBSERVER:       Do you have any idea what he means by that?   

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:     I perfectly understand exactly what Commissioner ... 

    THE OBSERVER:        Wants? What Commissioner Williams wants?  Can you tell me? So I know. 

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:       Yeah. Basically, what Commissioner Williams has  asked me to do, and I will comply, is in the future, when you see the same  invoice for the same services, you'll see some documentation backing it up as to what it's exactly for. 

    THE OBSERVER:        Thank  you. and we haven't received that before?

    CHAIRMAN WEAVER:             Times up, Mr. Lilker. We're not playing  

    COUNTY MANAGER DALE WILLIAMS:         (tries to answer) Typically, we only (Chairman Weaver gavels the County Manager  down) we only talk about  hours, not.

    CHAIRMAN WEAVER:         Mr. Williams. Thank you. That's it. Mr. Lilker, that's it. Anyone else to  address the board?

The meeting adjourned.

Wednesday -- The rest of the story:

Part II the November 20, 2008 BCC meeting  and more about the "audience idiot."


The Clerk is the Accountant and Custodian of County funds, as well as, the County Auditor


Part II of this story will be posted on November 26th.

The Observer is waiting to hear from the County Clerk,  the Hon. DeWitt Cason, the constitutional officer, who has the final say in  Columbia County, regarding what gets paid and what does not.

While Mr. Cason does much more than what is listed  below, as the elected Constitutional officer he is in charge of the money and at the barest minimum, he is required do the following:

As Accountant and  Custodian of County Funds

  1. Provide accounting services to all departments under the Board of  County Commissioners
  2. Provide an accounting system for all fiscal changes implemented by  the Board
  3. Establish and review internal control procedures for all cash  collection sites
  4. Handle investments of available county funds
  5. Provide financial reporting to the Board and all federal and state  agencies
  6. Process accounts payable
  7. Process the County payroll

As County Auditor

  1. Pre-audit all County expenditures before payment
  2. Review proposed contracts before adoption
  3. Conduct internal post audits to determine the sufficiency of  financial controls
  4. Prepare reports suggesting improvements to management
He also signs the checks and is supposed to be the  watch dog of the money paid in taxes by the working families of Columbia  County.