Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

Debbie Boyd Calls Prison Powwow

County Manager Dale Williams addresses the group
Assemblywoman Debbie Boyd (green jacket) listens to County Manager Dale Williams (blue shirt on right). Around the table, clockwise, are Mike Belle, Debbie Boyd, Ashley Cook, Gina Reynolds, Mark Hunter (not seen) Stephen Bailey, Lynn Banister, Jim Poole, Nathan Riska, Leonard Bembry, Dale Williams. (Titles at end of story)

State Assemblywoman Debbie Boyd, in a hastily called meeting at Columbia County IDA headquarters, went on a prison fact finding mission yesterday morning. In an effort to get everyone at all levels of government on the same page regarding the proposed federal prison, Ms. Boyd invited representatives from the Federal level to the local level to attend this fact finding meeting.

Jim Poole - IDA DirectorThe hour long meeting began with IDA Director Jim Poole going over an extensive laundry list of questions and complaints regarding the proposed federal prison: the prison was nonprofit -- now it's for profit; there was originally a housing component -- now there is none; prisoners could be moved 2300 miles from their families; the prison development looks like a Ponzi scheme; there are no constraints; it's is a speculative prison and the operators can pull out at anytime.

Mr. Poole also mentioned that he could not find a representative contract between a prison operator and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

County Manager Dale Williams' advice was "Don't sign anything."

Senator Nelson's Regional Director, Ms. Lynn Bannister said the Senator did not receive anything from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, but that it could have gotten lost in the mail (room) in Washington. Ms. Bannister said she would see what she could find out.

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter voiced his concerns about deputizing members of the prison staff.

After listening to everyone speak, assembly woman Debbie Boyd said this is a local (as in Columbia County) issue.

At the conclusion of the meeting your reporter brought up the letter of support written on July 1, 2008 by the Columbia County Commission, explaining that the letter had somehow fallen off the table. This letter, written to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, clearly explained the support of the project by the county commission.

Sheriff Hunter and Com Bailey
Sheriff Hunter and Com Bailey listen to Ms. Boyd.

Your reporter said, "It says that the county's in favor of it; we have the educational facilities; that this is a good place to do business ..."

Mr. Poole said, "It doesn't say any of those things."

The letter, which was obtained by the Observer after months of stalling by County Manager Dale Williams, was claimed to not be in the possession of the IDA, other than in a packet of documents provided by Mike Harling's Capital Markets Group. It clearly shows that the County Commission and the county manager supported the project.

After some fumbling around and no explanation by Commissioner Bailey or anyone from Columbia County on why this letter had gone missing, it was read by Mr. Poole, making the reason for it's disappearance, quite obvious.

The amazed look on Ms. Bannister's face spoke for itself as Mr. Poole read and the aides of the other representatives listened: (go to letter)

Lynn Bannister - US Sen Bill Nelson's regional director
Lynn Bannister

"Please accept this letter as our support for this project to be located in our community. We are anxious to provide the necessary support and assistance to make this project a success for all parties involved."

"Thoroughly understanding the mission of the Bureau of Prisons and its dependency on quality personnel, we feel that this area provides a suitable workforce as well as a great place for those employees and families to reside with our overall lifestyle quality, educational, and civic resources."

"We have other detention facilities in Columbia County and are familiar with the environmental impact as it pertains to the construction of a correctional institution in our jurisdiction and at this time have no concerns regarding same."

The letter was signed by Board Chairman Dewey Weaver.

Com Bailey explained that the Board had "an emergency – a special meeting called last year [July 1, 2008] on this. Had done no research on the company and knew nothing about it..."

In documents obtained by the Observer, it is clear that before the July 1, 2008 special emergency meeting the county had been in communication with Municipal Capital Markets Group; the wording of the letter had been pre-approved, and that Com Bailey's characterization of the events leave much to the imagination or he was just not in the loop.

In Columbia County, Florida -- it is business as usual.

Those in attendance were:

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s Regional Director - Lynn Bannister
U.S. Senator George Lemieux’s Staff Assistant - Ashley Cook
U.S. Congressman Ander Crenshaw’s District Representative - Nathan Riska

State Representative Leonard Bembry
State Representative Debbie Boyd
Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter
Columbia County Commissioner Stephen Bailey
Columbia County Manager Dale Williams
IDA Director Jim Poole
IDA Deputy Director Gina Reynolds
District Aide to State Representative Debbie Boyd - Mike Belle 


Prison Links:
  • Bailey letter to Ander Crenshaw
  • Federal Register: Notice of Hearing
  • Harling's list of benefits
  • July 1, 2008 Board Meeting Minutes
  • July 1, 2008 letter of support
  • June 30, 2009 - Fed. Bureau of Prisons wants to house 2500 illegal aliens in Columbia County
  • July 2, 2009 - Fed Bureau of Prisons listens to the public - 2500 bed illegal alien prison still uncertain
 • Nov 13, 2009 Com Bailey in the shadows - works to kibosh 100 million dollar fed project
 • Dec 15, 2009 - Debbie Boyd Calls Prison Powwow
 • Dec 18, 2009 - Prison officials address questions, concerns (from the LCR)