Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

IDA Rudderless • Web presence a mess Valdosta GA pays attention to IDA's Norris

For years, Columbia County's Industrial Development Authority (IDA), an arm of the "good ole boys" of Columbia County, operated in complete contravention of Florida's Sunshine Laws.  The IDA met in people's homes and did the bidding of the wheeling and dealing of "Mr. Columbia County," County Manager Dale Williams. After Craig Womer lifted the veil of secrecy off the IDA and blew their cover, they began meeting in a publicly accessible building. Unfortunately, nothing much else has changed over the years.

Like most agencies outside the jurisdiction of the City of Lake City, the IDA is another public body that does not feel that it is accountable to the public that supports it and like the Authority in whose building it meets (LSHA), does not feel like it should answer the questions of the public.

While the County fathers brag about Columbia County’s inland port, filling it up with hot air, Cincinnati Ohio does something about theirs. Go there

Valdosta Georgia is our direct competition •
Go there

During the January 6th IDA meeting your reporter, who is also a resident and tax payer to the IDA, had four questions to ask the IDA Board, which is appointed by the County Commission. The IDA budget, raised wholly from taxpayers' contributions, is about a half a million dollars a year.

No answers here

Your reporter came to the lectern. The ensuing conversation speaks for itself.

The Observer:     I am the owner, publisher and editor of the Columbia County Observer. There are four items that I have.... This letter that is from Com DuPree ... I’m not exactly why this letter is dated December 22nd and nobody got it before yesterday [Jan 5th].... Maybe we can get an explanation about that when I sit down.... Does this board have some sort of unified utility plan?

IDA Board:     Silence

The Observer:     That’s a question.

IDA Director Poole:     You’ve got comments. It’s not open for questions.

The Observer:     Nobody answers questions at this place?

Chairperson_Donna BrownChairperson Donna Brown:
It’s just listening...

The Observer:     But I have questions. How do you ask questions here?

Ms. Brown:     Not during the comment segment.

The Observer:     When do you ask a question?

Ms. Brown:     You can submit questions.

The Observer:     You can’t ask questions at the IDA?

Ms. Brown:     No. At this point we just need to listen to your comments.

The Observer:     What about any answers? That’s how I know how to continue.

Vice Chair Suzanne Norris:     We’ll get you back answers.

The Observer:     When would that be?

Ms. Norris:     By the next board meeting.

The Observer:     Welcome to Columbia County.

The Observer:     At the last County Commission meeting, the county approved a geological survey, in part, purportedly based on what you have done. You know what you’ve done; you haven’t done anything; and/or you’re not talking. I haven’t figured out -- which one that is?

The IDA Board:     (silence)

On his way back to his seat, your reporter asked long time IDA watcher, Craig Womer, "Did you know these folks don't answer questions?"

Mr. Womer answered, "That's news to me."

Contrary to Ms. Norris', "We'll get you back answers by the next board meeting," the IDA has answered nothing.

The IDA Web Site – Just disgraceful

The IDA is the face of economic and industrial development of Columbia County.

The IDA web presence is the face of Columbia County's Economic Development to the whole world.

During the last IDA meeting Chairperson Brown asked IDA Director, Jim Poole, "When will the web site be up?"

Mr. Poole didn't know and explained, "Our challenge has been finding a host."

Vice Chair_Suzanne NorrisDuring the meeting, IDA Board Vice Chair Norris, who is also Mercantile Bank's "Market President" and a member of the Lake City Community College Board of Directors told the IDA that she wants to "bring in more progressive employers." It wasn't clear what she meant by that and a glance at the IDA economic development web site would be sure to put the kibosh on those well intentioned plans.

Then Ms. Norris commented on the IDA web site: "We all agree that it is better to have an under construction sign and to let people know that we’re working on it, than to have something that is not current; that is not user friendly; it is better to let people know that we are working on something. That is the number one critical thing that we have to get done. What are you going to put on it; you’re not going to just throw trash on it -- garbage in garbage out. We have to have something that is representative of something that we are trying to do here."

Unfortunately, for the residents and business of Columbia County, Ms. Norris has not been giving her "personal attention" to the IDA web site, for when you "Google" – Columbia County Florida economic development – you get a half updated, half accurate/inaccurate, half assed Columbia County web site page, which still shows Jim Poole as the director of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, a job which went away some time ago.

Ms. Norris also told the Board, "We want to make sure we are aligning properly with communities that we are competing against."

Valdosta, GA is about sixty miles up the road from Lake City and is clearly in competition with Columbia County for industry. They know what Ms. Norris is talking about and practice it. Look at the face they present to the world. Also notice that while Columbia County leadership is constantly dumbing down the county, the leader of the Industrial Development team in Valdosta has an MBA.

Ms. Norris also told the IDA, " Education is a critical component ... Having an education system that is perceived as meeting the needs of potential employers, as well as the existing community, is absolutely critical.

Six years running, Columbia County High School has been a "D" school. Over 90% of the students enrolling in Lake City Community College after graduating from Columbia High need remediation.

At least Valdosta is paying attention to Bank President and IDA Vice Chair, Suzanne Norris.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb 6, 2010 - Brian of Ft White wrote:

"Ms. Norris also told the IDA, 'Education is a critical component ... Having an education system that is perceived as meeting the needs of potential employers, as well as the existing community, is absolutely critical.'"

What the hell is this supposed to mean? How about having an educational system that actually does meet the needs of potential employers? Perception doesn't mean a damn thing, reality is where most of the world resides.

The Columbia County government tries to give the perception they are actually working for the people, but the reality is they are working for a select few individuals and families to help them get richer. How else do you explain the dealings in Ellisville? How do you explain backdoor conversations between Comm. Bailey and Senator Nelson's office? How do you explain this ludicrous Cooperstown Dream Parks project, or the idiotic request by Columbia County IT manager Todd Manning for the county to pay for a T1 connection from his house to the office? Those are just a few of the recent boondoggles carried on by these people who were elected to represent the people of Columbia County. The IDA is nothing more than a group of puppets for them.

At a time when governments across the country should be finding ways to slash budgets and reduce the burden on taxpayers, this governmental body is searching for ever more inventive ways of raping the people of Columbia County of their hard earned money.


On Feb 11, 2010, Keeping it simple wrote:

After reading the story concerning the IDA and Ms. Norris's comment I am compelled to add to the need for a well educated job force. As a subscriber to a Florida business publication it is often shown that when a major employer is looking for a location one of the requirements is a  strong education system with a proven record of producing the expected results. The record of 90% remediation is not acceptable. The big issue of having utilities in place is a given.

I believe you can have all the wells you want, but without the educated job force you are just watering the vegetation. A good education also shows a willingness to work at achieving.

I recall either back in 2005 or 06 it was election time and Time Warner Cable would have forums to learn about the candidates running for the school board superintendent or school board. The publisher of the Lake City Reporter was the moderator. One of the questions was exactly what Ms. Norris alluded to. The question was asked, "What will you do to correct the problem of the high rate of students from Columbia High needing to take remedial courses."

As goes in all political circles, nobody answered the question. So it is no wonder that in 2010 the same is the norm.

I say to The Observer, "At least Ms. Norris recognizes the problem, but she can't fix the problem on her own."  Perhaps joint meetings between the IDA, Columbia County Commission, and the Columbia County School Board can find a solution. I have my doubts though with the current level of citizen confidence in government be it local, state, or federal.

Lastly I will remind both the voting public and the officials in elected offices. Come election time I am your employer. When I ask you a question, consider it a job interview. If you choose to not answer a question, why would I want to hire you?  And if you get the job you applied for you are my employee. As such, when I ask you a question I deserve a reasonable answer. Mute is not acceptable.

To The Observer, in following the above paragraph, it might be easier to understand where the elected person stands when a question is phrased so the reply has to be answered with a yes or no. Mute is not acceptable.

To the concerned readers "employer" voting public, I hope you remember this when the "job interviews" elections come around.

To parents active in their in their child's education and students doing duel enrollment, kudos..............You reap what you sow.


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More on Columbia County Economic Development:

Plum Creek on the move in Columbia County $190 million,  75 long term jobs on the docket (November 18, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development: Will Lake City continue as the "red-headed step child?" (August 4, 2011)

Workforce Florida, streamlining by adding another layer of bureaucracy: Cost $750,000 (July 27, 2011)

FL Economic Development Czar Speaks - Musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic? (July 24, 2011)

Columbia County: Garbage Capital of North Central Florida? (June 7, 2011)

Tallahassee: Economic Development Legislative Session Wrap-up (May 31, 2011)

Florida's Economic Development Czar Came to Columbia County - Really (May 31, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development Blowin' in the wind - 20 years too late (March 2, 2011)

Economic Development in their own words (Jan 24, 2011)

FL Enterprise Zones under the gun (Jan 23, 2011)

County & IDA Drop the Ball - Again (Jan 05, 2011)

Columbia County's inland port decades late (Jan 03, 2010)

Columbia County ranks 5th in the nation in the unemployed (Dec 18, 2010)

IDA Continues sub par under County management (Nov 29, 2010)

County Economic Development
Making it up as they go along
(Oct 06, 2010)

Lake City Planning for Future Downtown - County Commission MIA (June 25, 2010)

The Great Columbia County Dog and Pony Show (June 02, 2010)

IDA Rudderless • Web presence a mess (Feb 02, 2010)