Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

The 5: Money by relay. Another quarter million headed to a School District that can't afford books.

This time for locker room extensions.

Columbia County 5COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night Florida's infamous County Commission, The 5, demonstrated once again that its quest for votes trumps fiscal responsibility when it comes to County taxpayer dollars. While many teachers in the cash strapped school district dig into their own pockets for school supplies – children can't read and the district can't afford books – District II Commissioner Rusty DePratter, through a series of relays, bypassed the School Board and decided it would be nice to build a quarter million dollars of locker room extensions at Ft. White High School. The rest of the good ole' boy five gave it their rubber stamp of approval without missing a beat.

The 5 can't afford to give Sheriff's Road Deputies and others raises, but in two weeks they can afford to spend a half a million dollars on football fields, locker rooms for the school district and cost overruns. Ed.

The County summary agenda did not include the request for the Ft. White High School locker rooms, or anything at Ft. White. Downloading the complete agenda packet gave the item away. While the agenda claimed the request was for "Capital Improvements – Ball fields – $250,000," it was really for locker room expansion at an estimated cost of $225,250.

Assistant County Manager Roberts: the request

Assistant County Manager Lisa Roberts explained the request, "The Columbia County School District has requested the County financial assistance in the amount of $224,250 in the expansion of a project at Fort White high school Varsity and Jr. Varsity football locker rooms. If the Board desires to approve the County contribution in the amount requested by the School Board, the current interlocal (agreement) with the district providing recreation will be required to be amended to include this project."

Columbia County School Board: never requested anything

The fact is the Columbia County School Board never requested anything, which is why there was no supporting documentation made available to either The 5 or the public.

District II Commissioner, Rusty DePratter is up for reelection. He said he has attended games at Ft. White with 3,000 spectators. He explained the request this way:

 We do have two high schools in the County and it just so falls that both high schools are in my district, not in em', but people go to both schools. We have seen the need to help CHS, so now it's just fair that we help Fort White... A good school system is important for economic development... Big companies will check your school system out... We're trying to make our whole county look good. The school system is strapped economically. It's not their fault. It comes from the economy. I just believe it's right that we help the school system through a tough time.

I know that I have been at a game at Fort White and you have a visiting team out there and a thunderstorm blows up -- lightning starts popping -- there is nowhere for that team or any people on the visitors side to go.

It appears that when and if the project is completed, everyone will be running into the locker rooms. This is going to be a tight squeeze for 3,000 people.

Commissioner Nash acted fast

If I was going to donate to a charity, I would have done exactly what we did tonight." Commissioner Nash, post meeting."

Without taking a breath, District III Commissioner, Bucky Nash, who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, transparency and allowing the people to be heard, seconded the motion. "I make a motion for the capitol improvements in Fort White, instead of ball fields, for locker rooms for $224,250."

Your reporter asked, "Where's the money coming from?"

Assistant County Manager Roberts replied, "General Fund Contingency."

The 5's new slush fund is worth over 2.5 million

Columbia County used to have a slush fund of $250,000 a year from which the County Commissioners used to draw down money for causes which were purportedly near and dear to their hearts.

Now they use the General Fund Contingency, which began the year with approximately 2.6 million dollars.

None of The 5 knew the actual cost of the project.

Your reporter, who is also a Columbia County property owner, asked The 5, "There is nothing in the agenda that shows the County was contacted by anybody. Where is the request?"

No one responded.

The Observer followed up, "You were going to say something Mr. DePratter about how the request got to the County - How the request came in."

Commissioner DePratter, "No comment."

The Observer to the Board, "Is anybody going to tell us how the request came in?"

Commissioner DePratter decided to explain, "The request came from Coach Jackson in Fort White. Coach Jackson contacted North Florida Engineering Services. And then it was relayed to me."

The Observer, "So there was no written documentation? it was a relay?"

Commissioner DePratter, "That's right."


The School Board and the Superintendent know well of the challenges and dire financial straits of the District. They know of dismal math, science, reading and writing skills of many of the district's children, the majority of whom are on free or reduced lunch. They know of book shortages, the lack of art programs, and must know that there are County leaders who do not and will not send their children to the Columbia County School District.

When it comes to a choice between locker rooms and books, one would certainly have thought that those entrusted with the education of the County's children would have wanted to weigh in on the quarter of a million dollars going to build a locker room extension.

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Chairman Ronald Williams;
Commissioners Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina
Note: Commissioner Williams and County Manager Williams were absent.


Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Posted on Feb. 24, 2014, Citizen49a of Lake City wrote:

As Paul Harvey used to say, thanks for reporting "the rest of the story."

The Lake City Reporter amazingly deigned to do a story on this topic as well.  Anyone who wants to understand why things happen the way they do in this county need only read that article, and contrast it with what is revealed here.

I guess the LRC didn't comprehend or didn't care to report some of the more salient facts surrounding this little boondoggle.  They certainly did nothing to try to uncover them.  And no one would ever know about them if they hadn't been reported here.

It's easy to see why a lot of local government types would like to stop the Observer from asking questions and attending meetings.  It's the only source for real news about what's going on in this county.

Congratulations to the Observer, once again, for a job well done.


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