Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

County News

Parker Neely – Gateway Crossing Scores Big
On Tap for $255,000 Plus free Association Dues 

Parker Neely (file)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Parker Neely – Centurion Partners – Gateway Crossing – GWC (all incarnations of a retail subdivision planned by Parker Neely) scored big on Thursday night, as the County 5 on a 4-1 vote agreed to give Parker Neely's I-75 – U.S. 90 shopping plaza,  GWC, its last version, a $255,000 economic development incentive. The County 5 did not ask for a return of the previously paid trade association dues and a hotel room for Mr. Neely, nor is the incentive based in any measure on job creation or creating living wage jobs.

In the Beginning

The Parker Neely – Centurion Partners – Columbia County saga began in June of 2014. County Economic Development Chief, Glenn Hunter, was introduced to Parker Neely at Bob Evan's Restaurant in Lake City. Local real-estate broker, Janet Creel, made the introduction.

Mr. Hunter picked up the tab with a County credit card.

During that lunch, Mr. Hunter agreed to pay for Mr. Neely's trade association dues for the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) and put him up at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando for the ICSC convention. Cost to the taxpayers: $800 for ICSC dues; $310.70 for the Hyatt Regency.

The ICSC is the global trade association of the shopping center industry. Among its 70,000 members in over 100 countries are shopping center owners, developers, investors, retailers, brokers, academics, and public officials. The County also paid for a membership for Mr. Hunter at $100.

Late in 2014, the then County Finance Director, Jared Blanton (Mr. Blanton has since moved on) picked up the charges during an audit and sought explanations.

Econ Dir Hunter and County Attorney Foreman Respond

In an undated memo, Mr. Hunter explained how he met Mr. Neely. "Mr. Neely introduced himself as a partner representing Centurion Partners, LLC, located in Concord, North Carolina..."

Mr. Hunter also explained that paying to join the ICSC and attending "the [upcoming] convention in Orlando would afford us a personal opportunity to enhance the relationships as we would begin working with his contacts."

Outside of his shopping plaza, there is no indication that Mr. Neely has brought anyone to Columbia County, besides himself.

County Attorney Joel Foreman Weighs In

On January 9, 2015, County Attorney Joel Foreman defended Mr. Hunter's actions.

Mr. Foreman wrote in a memo to Assistant County Manager Ben Scott: "Given that Mr. Neely was apparently a unique contact that Mr. Hunter cultivated in advance of ICSC, and given Mr. Neely's willingness to arrange introductions for Mr. Hunter at ICSC to potential industrial and retail clients for the County, Mr. Neely was a single-source supplier for the services Mr. Hunter procured from him... Furthermore, to the extent these expenditures were intended to help Mr. Hunter and his department's efforts 'to attract and retain business enterprises' to Columbia County, that expenditure of public funds was permissible under Fla. Stat. section 125.045."

In July 2013, Mr. Foreman, then the Chamber of Commerce president, hawked the County hiring the Alabama firm, Retail Strategies to take care of the County's retail needs. The cost to the County's residents, $80,000.
See: Columbia County 5 At It Again:  Skimming $80,000 of Cream Out of Taxpayer's Pockets 

Retail Strategies attends ICSC regional and national conferences. They were Columbia County's consultant/representative in Orlando.

Finance Director Blanton Responded

On January 22, 2015, Finance Director Blanton emailed a response to his boss, Clerk of the Courts, P. De Witt Cason.

Mr. Blanton began, "We have a real problem here with Mr. Neely's documentation, in that it's apparently false. Per what Mr. Hunter stated in his letter [the undated memo], Mr. Neely...introduced himself as a partner representing Centurion Partners, LLC, located in Concord, North Carolina... He provided a copy of the website for that company as backup."

On January 13, 2012, Parker Neely registered with the state of Florida a limited liability partnership with the name, Centurion Equity Partners. The new firm had a Lake City address.

Mr. Blanton continued, "My staff called Centurion Partners, LLC, in North Carolina to speak with Mr. Neely. Instead, she was told by one of the other partners (John R. Shell) that Mr. Neely hasn't worked there in over three years? He has since founded an organization of similar name that is registered in Florida and located in Lake City... He is, per John Shell, no longer part of that organization... his position is misleading and false."

Mr. Blanton concluded, "This is primarily a private benefit to Mr. Neely, who in reality has an 'upstart' company here locally, not an established history."

"... My opinion is that Mr. Neely owes back to the County at least the cost of his [ICSC] membership."

Mr. Hunter told the Observer that Mr. Neely was never under contract with Columbia County.

The Clerk of the Courts Weighs In: Asks for the Money

On January 23, 2015, the man that signs the checks, P. DeWitt Cason, Clerk of the Courts weighed in. He wanted the money.

In a letter to County Attorney Joel Foreman and Assistant County Manager Ben Scott, Mr. Cason wrote:

"A review of the supporting documentation and explanation for the ICSC expense for Parker Neely provides no reasonable and necessary justification for the purchase of a professional organization membership for a non-employee. Any public benefit derived from Mr. Neely's membership would be incidental and secondary to the primary benefit he and his company derive. An incidental public benefit is not sufficient to achieve a public purpose (AGO98-44). Additionally, the supporting documentation provided is apparently false with regard to statements made about what company he is representing."

Mr. Cason concluded, "Mr. Neely owes the County back the cost of his membership in the ICSC."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina

Columbia County does not have a retail economic development incentive program.

Mr. Neely had already planned and financed his retail plaza. Lake City had approved the plans. Mr. Neely previously claimed he had already invested $6,000,000 and was going to build the project whether he received incentives or not.

After various incarnations, the County 5 during its Thursday meeting, voted to award Mr. Neely $255,000 in economic incentives for his retail shopping plaza.

The incentive is conditional, based on increases in the appraised value of the land and is not based on job creation or creating living wage jobs.

The reimbursement of Mr. Neely's stay at the Orlando Hyatt hotel room is still up in the air.

The County is still waiting for Mr. Neely to return the $800 for his International Council of Shopping Centers association dues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

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

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.


Related Articles - 2016 Econ Dev:

Czar Power: County 5 Chair Loads the Bases, Nash Out as Econ Dev Advisory Bd Chief  December 27, 2016

Columbia County 5 Approves $25,000 for Ten Pages of TDC Web Content
 December 16, 2016 

Econ Dev Strategic Plan Committee Meets: More Interested in Massaging the Truth Than Telling It   November 29, 2016

Columbia Cnty Econ Dev Incentives: Home-Grown, Mom-and-Pops, Small Business Need Not Apply November 3, 2016

After Giving Away Millions, Columbia County Economic Development Incentives May be Heading Into Prime Time
October 28, 2016

Taxpayers on the Hook - $10,000 No Strings Attached, Cnty Econ Dev: FSU's Hendry Scores September 9, 2016

Cnty Chair Reverses Vote - Love's Wins - Confusion Part II of Economic Development the County 5 Way August 5, 2016

Cnty Chair Throws Econ Dev Advisory Bd Under Bus Part I of Economic Development the County 5 Way  August 5, 2016

County 5 Poised To Give Away Another $ Million Plus Incentive for 35 Low Paying Jobs August 4, 2016

$1,325,000 Econ Dev Incentive On Tap At County 5 Tonight: Minimum Wage Unclear  July 21, 2016

Econ Dev: Extenuating Circumstance, Late Notice, Lack of Agenda Keeps Public in the Dark  July 19, 2016

Columbia County Workforce Development Summit On Tap for September
June 22, 2016

Cnty 5 to Vote on $869,140 Tax Abatement for Econ Underdevelopment Non-Living Wage Jobs   June 16, 2016

Columbia Cnty Econ Development "We don't have a workforce strategy"
June 1, 2016

Drunk With Power, Nash Board Plays Post Office W/Developer - County Bldg Leased for a Buck  May 21, 2016

Hutton Development Scores: City Council Approves 10yr $440,00 Tax Abatement & $340k in Cash  June 14, 2016

 • Econ Development Bd Recommends $1,650,000 Retail Incentive for Another Shopping Mall  April 7, 2016

 •  Parker Neely – Gateway Crossing Scores Big: On Tap for $255,000 Plus free Association Dues March 5, 2016

 • The 5 Sends Neely–Gateway Crossing $255,0000 EDAB Incentive Back to the Drawing Board  Feb. 22, 2016

  • To Incentivize or Not to Incentivize: EDAB Approves $255k Gateway Crossings Incentive

Feb. 19, 2016

 • Lake City Developer Wants $255,000 From County, City Manager Johnson says, "It's a deal"  January 07, 2016

 • Columbia County Economic Development: Confusion 101 "What's goin' on?"
Nov. 6, 2015

 • Columbia County 5 At It Again: Skimming $80,000 of Cream Out of Taxpayer's Pockets

July 22, 2013