Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Working To Keep Public in Dark About Important Meeting Today

At approximately 12:20 pm, today - the day of the meeting, the County finally corrected the meeting location listed on the County web site.

In another sorry Columbia County turn of events, Jack Berry protégé, Commissioner Jody DuPree, is working hard to keep the public in the dark, inconvenienced, and out of step with the official actions of the Board of County Commissioners.

By scheduling an improperly noticed public meeting for this afternoon, the County's newly enhanced "Damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead" mentality is now also tarnishing the image of Lake City's Sunshine Girls and the City's sterling regard for following both the spirit and letter of Florida's universally regarded Sunshine laws.

The blatant disregard for notice requirements is nothing new in the County.

This story begins here

Sometime after lunch on Thursday, January 13th, the City received a memo from Assistant County Manager, Lisa Roberts, advising the City that a meeting had been called for the 911 Combined Communications Executive Committee. The memo did not state who called the meeting.

This committee has as its members the Lake City Mayor, the Sheriff and a member of the Board of County Commissioners. Any member of the Executive Committee may call a meeting at any time. Because this meeting had not been previously scheduled, it is considered a special meeting.

At 3:07 on Thursday afternoon, the City Clerk, Audrey Sikes, on behalf of Lake City, graciously offered the council chambers for the upcoming meeting. Clerk Sikes told the County:

For years, the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners has been homeless.  It does not have its own meeting room that can accommodate more than ten members of the public and a room of public officials and staff at the same time.

I had communicated to you the City suggested holding the meeting at City Hall in the City Council Chambers in lieu of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as it would be more assessable for the general public to be able to attend. You stated that Chairman Dupree did not want to hold the meeting in the Council Chambers and would prefer to hold it at the EOC or the conference room located in the Courthouse Annex. The City feels either the City Council Chambers or the School Board would provide the appropriate meeting location, as this committee is carrying out legislative responsibilities and the public should be afforded a meaningful opportunity to participate without an effect on the public’s willingness to attend due to restrictions on access. I will await your response, as I need to incorporate the meeting location into the notice. Thanks and have a great afternoon.

The City's invitation fell on deaf ears.

Clerk Sikes also expressed urgency to the City Manager indicating the necessity for proper legal and public notice. Early on Friday morning, she communicated the following to City Manager, Wendell Johnson (emphasis added):

I need to get my ad to the paper today for a Sunday publication if this meeting is going to happen on Wednesday.  Monday is a holiday and by the time we come back on Tuesday, the deadline will have passed for a Wednesday publication.  Besides with a Wednesday meeting you really don't want a same day publication for a meeting notice.  Do you want me send Lisa an email expressing the deadline for the block ad or would you prefer to wait it out?  My only hesitation with waiting it out is if we wait it out too long, we wouldn't be able to have the meeting on Wednesday due to the time constraints needed for the block ad with the newspaper.

Neither a legal notice, nor a block ad was run by the City advising the public of this important meeting.

By the end of business on Friday, the County, which is required by the County Charter to post their meeting notices on the county website, had done nothing and the meeting announcement did not appear. 

Sometime on Tuesday morning, January 18th, the County finally posted a notice about the meeting on the county website, with the location of the meeting incorrectly stated.

Last night at the City Council meeting, Mayor Witt, said his first item of discussion at Wednesday's meeting will be the legality of the meeting.

The Sheriff - Columbia County's Chief of Law Enforcement

Columbia County Sheriff, Mark Hunter, is the third member of the Executive Committee.  Because it takes two members of the committee to make a quorum, the meeting could go on without the Lake City Mayor present, should Sheriff Hunter support the County's actions.*[see correction below. The sentence should have read...]

As of 11:50 this morning, the County, which clearly must know by now that the meeting location is incorrect on the County website, is still listing the wrong location for the meeting.

 Correction: Because it takes three members of the committee to make a quorum, the meeting could go on without the Lake City Mayor present, should Sheriff Hunter support the County's actions, although the committee would not have been able to take official action.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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