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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Charter Under Attack -  County Manager looks to strip internet access of meeting material

Thursday night, September 29, 2011, Columbia County's handpicked Charter Review Commission (CRC), met for its third meeting. Invited to come before the CRC were the five members of the County Commission. County Manager Dale Williams added himself to the agenda. The County Manager's urgent topic, removing the charter provision, approved by the largest majority of anything ever voted on by the residents of the county or the state, that gives the public real time free and unfettered access to the same supporting information used by the County Commission and other County Boards at their public meetings.

The Monster of the Beast

Long time County Commissioner Ronald Williams began the attack this way:  One of the things that I see is a burden on the Commission as well as staff is all the document for a Board meeting should be placed on the web site. We have a two week window...

In 2006, after the charter amendment was passed, the County dragged its feet for over a year before it did anything, completely ignoring the will of the people. County Manager Dale Williams' excuse was that the County had to hire someone who could do it. Finally, the County hired then Commissioner Dewey Weaver's son, Patrick Weaver, to fill the position. The young Weaver was clearly challenged by the position.

Months passed and still the charter amendment, which required the posting of the agenda back up material, continued to be ignored, the County now using the excuse that it didn't have the proper scanner.

After the County consulted with the Observer, the County purchased a document scanner, at a cost of about $6,000, that could scan approximately 100 pages a minute.

100 pages in 5 minutes - still a burden

The County was and is now able to scan 100 page documents and post them to the County website in under five minutes.

It is not clear how this is a burden, but after Commissioner Williams finished addressing the CRC, County Manager Williams picked up the gauntlet, giving a litany of silly excuses regarding why the County couldn't meet its obligations to the charter, i.e., the will of the people.

County Manager Williams explained that he understood the intent of the charter amendment that he was speaking against. He also seemed to understand why people complained when information that should have been posted on the County website was not there.

County Manager Williams took exception to the provision that an intentional violation of this section of the charter could carry with it some penalty, even though this penalty amounted to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

County Manager Williams told the CRC, "I've never understood why we simply can't say – let's do what the law requires."

The law requires the County to come up with an agenda sometime before the meeting. It does not require the County to have any supporting documentation available before the meeting and furthermore, it allows the county to charge for the information.

When this was the only requirement for the County, they couldn't, or wouldn't do that, either.

Epilogue

Well known for ages as the most corrupt County in Florida, some of Columbia County's good ol' boys are working and scheming to move Columbia County back into the dark ages. They want to modify one of the only things that makes Columbia County open, transparent and a member of the 21st Century, giving citizens timely access to information that affects their lives.

The County Commission and the County Manager want the public and some members of the CRC to believe that nothing will change if this amendment is removed.

They are not mentioning that once the information is removed from the County website, they will once again be able to track who is requesting the information and in their minds, who is looking over their shoulder.

It will be interesting to see how the CRC handles this situation.

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

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