Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

County 5 Public Hearings a Sham: The 5 Ignore Rule of Law, County Attorney Gets it Wrong

Before Monday night, 30 plus year veteran County Manager, Dale Williams, had never appeared next to a cell phone.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Monday night the County Commission (The 5 or the County 5) held thirteen public hearings to either amend the County Comprehensive Plan, the County Future Land Use Map, or the Land Development Regulations. These are zoning matters in which the County Commission acts in a quasi-judicial capacity and is required by Florida law to base its decisions on competent substantial evidence presented to the Commission during the hearing on the applications.

Not one shred of competent substantial evidence was presented to The 5 by the County Staff during the hearings. Columbia County's newly-elected County Attorney said they didn't need any.

The Proceedings: You are sworn in to testify and have rights

Lisa Tillman, during one of the hearings, told The 5 she worried a lot about her young children's saftey.

Florida law requires that the County Commission’s decision in a quasi-judicial action be supported by competent substantial evidence presented to the Commission during the hearing on the application.

Persons wishing to participate and speak on an issue during the public hearing are sworn in prior to speaking. They have the right to ask questions, seek clarification of comments, and to respond to the comments or presentations of staff or other speakers; or refute or respond to any ex-parte communication.

All persons who present written materials to Commissioners for consideration must ensure that a copy of such materials is provided to the Clerk for inclusion in the Board's record of proceedings and official minutes.

Competent Substantial Evidence:
Competent substantial evidence is such evidence as a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. There must be a factual basis in the record to support opinion testimony from both expert and non-expert witnesses. Persons presenting testimony may rely on factual information that they present, that is presented by County staff, that the applicant presented, or on factual information included in the County staff report to support their testimony.

Applications & County Staff Reports: They were not presented

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina. None of The 5 asked that the record be made available to the public.

Neither the applications, nor any county staff reports were presented to the County Commission, nor did the newly-hired county planner, Brandon Stubbs, announce whether or not the Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval of the ordinances. Proof of the publication of the required legal notices was not announced or presented to the County 5.

The County's new County Planner, Brandon Stubbs, forgot to announce the P&Z recommendations.

It appeared that the applications and all supporting documentation were not available at the public hearings. If it was, no one was talking.

The County Violated its Charter

The County Charter, amended in 2006, requires that supporting information provided to the commissioners be posted to the county website.

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council prepared digital files for all the thirteen ordinances and made them available 11 days before Monday's public hearings. These files included the ordinance; the history of the applications; the proceedings before the Planning & Zoning Board; detailed maps; emails; letters; site plans; and other information upon which The 5 and the public could rely in making their respective presentations, as well as providing a foundation for The 5 to make its decision on whether or not to accept the recommendations of the P&Z to approve or deny the subjects of the individual hearings.

This information, or at least part of it, was made available to the Commissioners before the meeting.

All of the information, except for the ordinances, was kept off of the County website.

County Attorney Joel Foreman Weighs In: by iPhone

Much of what the County Attorney said was unintelligible past the 1st row.

The 5's short notice rescheduling of the June 18 commission meeting to June 22 caught the many members of the public and the County Attorney by surprise.

The 5, never having approved conflict counsel for the County (someone who could sit in for Mr. Foreman when he was not available) did not balk when Mr. Foreman announced he was scheduled to be on vacation at that time and he would be attending the meeting by iPhone.

At the barest minimum, the poor acoustics made Mr. Foreman's iPhone appearance a violation of the Sunshine Law, as he could barely be heard speaking past the first row and much of what he said was unintelligible.

Your reporter, who is also a resident of Columbia County, pointed out to the Commission that from what he could read in the information provided there really was not a lot of information on which to base a decision and asked the county staff, “This is a public hearing... how is anybody supposed to know why you are asking this board to approve it?”

County Chair DePratter, looking at the iPhone on the desk asked, “Joel, do you wish to comment? Did you hear that?”

County Attorney Foreman, who was somewhere at the end of the line, responded, "I really don’t, other than to say the prelude to the ordinance says “pursuant to an application.” ... Our planner was hired to review those applications and conduct hearings for the Planning & Zoning Board. As far as I know he’s done his job. This is a step in the process. If Mr. Lilker wants to hire somebody to help explain it to him, that’s fine, but this is how it works... (unintelligible)."

Rick Dennison, a regular attendee at County 5 meetings, voiced displeasure on the lack of the availability of maps.

The residents who did speak at the public hearings pointed out that the information regarding those hearings was not available.

After Rick Dennison, a regular attendee of County 5 meetings, pointed out that maps would be a nice thing to be able to reference, Mr. DePratter said that they would be made available at the entrance to the meeting.

Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott, who for the most part has taken over the day-to-day running of the County, added that they could be put on PowerPoints.


County Attorney Joel Foreman, Florida's only popularly elected County Attorney opined that, "This is how it works."

"This is how it works" in Columbia County. In some parts of the civilized world, where elected officials respect the public and the rule of law, it works a little differently.

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