City Manager Wendell Johnson
center stage at city/county sit-down
Columbia County, FL (posted
Part of the Lake City front line listens to Veteran
Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams. (left to
right - Freshman Councilman Jake Hill, Veteran
Councilman Eugene Jefferson and the City's new
quarterback, City Manager Wendell Johnson.)
By the conclusion of the November 18th city/county
sit-down, it was clear that after four months on the
job, Lake City's new straight talking City Manager,
Wendell Johnson has found his sea legs, proven that he
is a quick study and shown that he is a manager who can
and will take advantage of the talents of his staff. At
Wednesday night's city/county sit down, it was the City
Manager who took center stage.
The county provided the topics for the evening's
agenda, which never made it to the county web site.
Water at Ellisville and EMS were the main topics the
county brought to the table.
Ellisville Utility Project
The Ellisville Drinking Water Project has cost
millions, hasn't had any oversight by the county until
the 12th hour and could have been avoided if Columbia
County had listened to itself, when it said over and
over, "We don't want to be in the utility business."
Ronald Williams told the City, "I was very disappointed
that we could not come up with a rate on water for the
Ellisville Project. If we would have been able to we was
goin to use the
wells for recharge , in a sense of speakin."
A little later on Com Williams said, "We don't want
to go all over the county puttin out wells."
City Manager Johnson told the county, "Any
arrangement whereby the city would provide the water
supply would be subject to the criteria of the state
statutes for the out of city rates..." CM Johnson said
when there is an industrial development or a large
commercial prospect there is a "potential for
The Lake City Utility is the regional utility which
includes a radius which fans out five miles from the
Com Williams told the city, "We would have been the
largest user the city will ever have."
Johnson was clear. After explaining that he was only in
the county for four months, he said, "I did not see any
evidence of a rate that would have been conducive to the
city participating based on the cost of the city to
CM Johnson continued, "Our city engineer, Henry
Sheldon and our Utilities Director, Dave Clanton were
involved in all these meetings... I made every
open-minded effort to find a way to work this project...
The reality is, the potential users and the demand – for
the volume of water that it would take justify the city
extending the line and providing supply – I just didn't
CM Johnson mentioned that some time in the future the
conditions might be right and told the Commission that
he and the city would work with the county in any way
that they can.
The County has never explained why after spending
millions at Ellisville they are still looking to buy
water from the city.
Item "8" of the county prepared agenda read
"Outstanding EMS Payment."
The county contends that the city owes the county
$250,000 for providing EMS services to the county
residents who are also Lake City residents
Once again Commissioner Williams kicked off the
conversation, "We got an outstanding invoice. Did we
ever see payment on it yet?"
Columbia County Manager, Dale Williams listens to City
City Manager Johnson mentioned that in 2007 both the
city and the county asked the Attorney General for an
opinion - see pg. 2] CM Johnson said that he had
read the AG's opinion: "I read it. I understood several
components of it. First and foremost is that the County
is a licensed emergency care provider and they have an
obligation, based on Wendell Johnson's opinion, to all
the citizens of Columbia County, which includes the
residents of Lake City, because we are county tax payers
Manager Dale Williams interpretation of the informal AGO
can be found here.]
CM Johnson continued: "I heard that a position has
been taken that there is going to be a point certain in
the future where there is no longer going to be any
services, EMS, provided in the city limits. I hope that
is not a true vision of the leaders of Columbia County."
CM Johnson said that he stands committed to working
toward a solution of the EMS problem. He suggested the
city and county attorneys should sit down and try and
"work it out." "Failing that, CM Johnson said that it
may take another AG opinion."
Com Williams said it costs the county more than
$250,000 a year.
CM Johnson said that all citizens, county and city
contribute to the revenue sharing fund that the county
uses to fund EMS.
CM Johnson said that he has done his own analysis of
the $250,000 fee for which the county is billing the
CM Johnson: "It shows ratios. It shows cost factors.
I think I can show with reliable accuracy that the cost
of $250,000 to provide service in the city of Lake City
is inflated... I think the numbers speak for
Com Williams told the City Manager, "Mr. Johnson, I
viewed that scenario and figured it out... We take the
whole pie and whatever it costs to make that pie."
CM Johnson: "... I have to admit, I'm not a math
major, but I am a financial manager and I looked at a
data report that I feel has merit; it's based on real
information; real cost factors and that's what I work
from. I don't work from speculation."
County Manager Dale Williams told the City Manager,
"Wendell, we don't have the benefit of all that history
and I understand that. Certainly we have an obligation
to sit and hear what you have to say... but what you're
alluding to has been argued by the county and what the
county's reaction was is we're not interested in
providing it [EMS] at cost."
County Manager Williams said if the city thinks they
can provide it for less than they should do it.
City Manager Johnson: "I'm not arguing... That's an
easy out... That's not where I am... Hopefully we can
come to some understanding that we can all agree with."