Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County 5: Violate FL Law Then Approve 12th Hr. $500,000 Plus Real Estate Deal

The rule of law is what Florida's infamous good ole' boys say it is

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Florida's quintessential good ole' boy County Commission, The 5, has proven once again that when it comes to back room deals Florida law will not slow it down. Shortly after last night's meeting got underway, a 12th hour $500,000 plus real estate deal was added to the agenda. As usual, not one of The 5 asked for an explanation of its sudden appearance. Thirty four minutes later, backed by The 5, Board Chair Ronald Williams dug in and refused public questions or comment before the unanimous approval to commit to what will no doubt add up to another $600,000 more of unbudgeted funds to a project which is part of the Bascom Norris Bypass to Nowhere.

The meeting began with County Manager Dale Williams asking The 5 to approve the addition of a 12th hour real estate transaction to the agenda. He said it was a dated agreement and could not wait. County Manager Williams did not reveal the cost; none of The 5 asked why the date couldn't be moved back so that the public could examine the details of the proposed purchase. There was no other information given. The 5 voted unanimously to add it.

Not sharing records made available To the 5 violates the County Charter

Thirty four minutes later County Manager Williams advised The 5:

the effective date would be tonight's meeting should the Board decide to proceed... It requires an earnest payment of $50,000 which is non-refundable... I think some of you probably noticed there is a discrepancy between the property appraiser's records and the bank's records (none of these records were made available, which violates the County Charter)... What we are asking the Board to approve tonight is the agreement for the purchase and sale of real estate between TD Bank and the County. We are asking the Board to authorize the $50,000 earnest money payment to the bank's escrow agent... We need to do a budget amendment. We are going to use $50,000 of cash balance forward and put it in the project. The project number is yet to be assigned as is the budget amendment number."

County Manager Williams said he would entertain questions.

Board Chairman Williams looked to the Board, "Board?"

Board Chair Ronald Williams Blew Off Questions

Your reporter said, "I've got a question."

Chairman Williams said, "You're not the Board."

The Bascom Norris Bypass to Nowhere

This piece of property is another add-on to Columbia County's own Big Dig, The Bascom Norris Bypass to Nowhere.

Chairman Williams talked for buying the property. He said the County could purchase the property and sell parts of it for a profit.

County Manager Williams said the property was going to be used for right-of-way and for drainage, then added, "You're correct, any land that the Board declares surplus, the Board could sell."

Commissioner DePratter said, "I'm glad to see us purchase property like this... I know we'll be saving the taxpayers money."

Commissioner Nash asked about the uses for some of the parcel.

Outgoing Commissioner Bailey opined, "It's just one more tool in the tool chest of economic development after the road goes through."

Commissioner Frisina was silent.

Your reporter held up his pen and indicated to the Board that he wanted to be recognized before the vote.

The 5 averted its eyes.

Columbia County's long time elected County Attorney sat silent.

Chairman Williams called for the vote. It was unanimous.

Epilogue: The 2 Minutes and SB 50 - Who needs the law?

In December of 2010, The 5 removed this rule from its Rules of Procedure for the public: No citizen shall be unreasonably denied the right to address the Board of County Commissioners.

In February 2013, The 5 granted its subjects, the people of Columbia County, two minutes at the end of its meetings to address them. In December 2013, Commissioners Bailey, DePratter, and Williams spoke in favor of taking the two minutes away, while Commissioners Frisina and Nash were opposed, but in the end, only Commissioner Bailey voted to end the two minutes. He is not running for reelection this year.

During The 5's last meeting of 2013 it had an opportunity to legislate the spirit of SB 50 (the Senate Bill which became law and granted the public the right to comment on items of action) into its own public participation rules. It didn't, with Commissioner Nash commenting that the enhanced right to participate was, "A little extreme for Columbia County."

Even though SB 50 was enacted and became the law of Florida, last night, The infamous Columbia County 5 thumbed its collective nose at Florida Law, proving once again in Columbia County, the rule of law is what Florida's infamous good ole' boys say it is.

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Chairman Ronald Williams;
Commissioners Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Stephen Bailey; Scarlet Frisina


Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On April 5, 2014, Bubba Twelvepack wrote:

Who holds these people accountable for their actions? What legal authority should be investigating this and their myriad other continuing and escalating questionable activities?

What agency, authority, office or inspector is supposed to look into the things these people do? Apparently none.

By some circumstance or arrangement they are above all that, apparently. And they know it. They are a law unto themselves, who just barely feel the need to even acknowledge our presence.  We're serfs.


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