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

Brewery on tap; no business plan; FL statutes ignored

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

COLUMBIA COUNTY/ LAKE CITY, FL – On Thursday night, May 19, 2016, the Columbia County 5 demonstrated that being the County Economic Development Director or a member of the County Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) was of less importance than being a eunuch invited to a harem owners convention. The EDAB, a board of mostly volunteer businessmen, was created by The 5 to vet County economic development projects.

Ignoring the Economic Development Director and the EDAB, The 5 did an orchestrated run around Florida's Sunshine Law and met secretly, one at a time, with a developer to receive a presentation and have their questions answered. The County 5 approved a 25 year lease for a County owned building to a newly incorporated LLC, the first five years for $1 a year.

Economic Development Advisory Board

The Columbia County EDAB was born during Columbia County's four year reign of terror, which began at the end of 2008 and concluded in 2012, when District III's Commissioner was replaced by Sylvester "Bucky" Nash.

On October 6, 2011, the County Commission (The 5 or the County 5) established by resolution the Columbia County Economic Development Advisory Board.

The purpose of the EDAB was to "enhance economic activity in Columbia County." It accomplished this purpose by making non-binding recommendations to The 5.

Most recently, the EDAB has been charged with vetting economic development incentives and economic development in the County.

Scott Ward        (file)

During the April 6, 2016, EDAB meeting, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, who by a change in EDAB rules became an EDAB member, questioned procedural issues used by the EDAB to vet economic development projects. He told the Board, "What are we doing here? Someone comes in and does a presentation to us and we cut em' a check or we make an agreement."

Mr. Ward, referring to a specific project in front of the Board, asked questions like, "What's the return on investment? When would the County begin making some income back on it? Have you vetted it properly?"

County 5 Chairman, "Bucky" Nash explained that the County was looking to develop a retail incentive program. He explained the County's retail vetting this way, "Right now, this is the way we do it: it's presented; we vent (sic) it; decide whether it's a good investment for the County."

Mr. Ward followed up, "My question is, have we done that? Have we done the research...? I would feel more comfortable if I knew -- we don't even have an idea what the profit margin is and what we are subsidizing."

On April 21, 2016, the project discussed during the April 6 EDAB meeting was brought before the County 5. Chairman Nash spoke about the deal: "During this process we've been open and transparent... We give everybody an opportunity to speak... I've been open and honest... I stand by the Economic Board [EDAB] who vented (sic) the process properly. I think that's what we do."

"I Think That's What We Do"
Not when it comes to the "Beer Palace"

Commissioner Nash presiding at the EDAB (file)

When it came to the Beer Palace, Halpatter Brewing, which mystically showed up on Thursday's agenda, Nash trashed his Economic Development Advisory Board and the County's Economic Development Director and allowed County Manager Ben Scott, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, and County Attorney Joel Foreman to handle the project. Neither Mr. Scott, nor Mr. Ward have built or run any business.

Thursday Night at The 5

On Thursday night's agenda was a 25 year lease which gave Halpatter Brewing Company an initial 5 year term of $1 a year for the County owned Montgomery building, which some believe is a historic landmark in Lake City.

Halpatter Brewing, incorporated as an LLC on January 20, 2016.

Emails between Chris Candler, the General Manager of Halpatter and the Scott Bros. (County Manager Ben Scott and Asst. Cnty Manager Scott Ward), and County Attorney Foreman show that Halpatter was looking to build a beer hall and brewery. Other than the lease, there was no supporting documentation provided to the public. The County Charter requires that all material provided to the Commissioners be made available to the public via the County website.

A public record request revealed that Halpatter presented a "Company Overview" to the County and County Attorney Foreman. It demonstrated that the Beer Boys only experience with beer was drinking it; researching it; going to beer shows, and making beer in their bath tubs.

Your reporter, a County resident, asked The 5 to pull the item off the agenda and send it back to the EDAB for vetting, telling The 5, "That's what they are for... You want to give away a County building without giving anybody else in the state of Florida the opportunity to make a proposal to use that County building. I am asking that you pull this tonight."

County Manager Ben Scott told The 5 that Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter "spoke with Chris Chandler on several occasions trying to help him locate a building that this would go in."

In a post meeting interview, Mr. Hunter disputed Mr. Scott's characterization.

There were only two verified contacts between Mr. Hunter and Mr. Candler. The first was in July 2015, well before Mr. Candler became Halpatter Brewing. The second was on February 8, 2016, when Mr. Hunter was copied on an email to the Scott Bros.

County Manager Scott said that Chris Candler, now the General Manager of Halpatter Brewing, "Came and asked me specifically would the County entertain leasing the Montgomery building as an economic development project?" Mr. Scott did not volunteer when that was.

Your reporter asked Mr. Scott if he keeps a record of his conversations. Mr. Scott said he does not.

Your reporter asked, "Where is the project?"

Joel Foreman       (file)

County Attorney Joel Foreman took over. He said that the Montgomery building was "in a state of considerable disrepair... The situation that the County is confronted with is a largely useless building and having been approached by an outfit that would like to go into that building and invest its own money and resources in bringing that building along; bringing it into a significantly better state of repair."

The 5 Was Briefed

County Attorney Foreman continued, "I believe each of you was briefed on the pros and cons of the project... I won't say which County commissioner said it, but one of you said, 'This seems like a no-brainer.' And that is the way I evaluate it and it's a legitimate economic development activity in terms of bringing an attraction to the downtown area."

County Attorney Foreman: "No legal barriers"

Mr. Foreman said, "In terms of the interest of the County and the authority of the County to enter into this agreement, I do not find and did not find any legal barriers to it. It's just sort of one of those things that was presented and for lack of a better way of putting it -- it just made a lot of sense... This is a lease that we prepared; it's been attached; it's all here; there is some additional language that I am going to be inserting...

It is against long established law to lease county owned property without competitive bidding. Florida Attorney General Robert Butterworth (1988) (annotations by the Observer)

Mr. Foreman continued, "The value of the asbestos remediation alone is well in excess of six figures."

Mr. Foreman's "well in excess of six figures" doesn't jive with the 2012 estimate received by the County of $135,000. Mr. Candler agreed with the $135,000 figure.

No Questions

Mr. Candler (center) and his folks.

Chairman Nash asked, "Any questions from the Board?"

There was total silence.

Mr. Foreman jumped in, "I do want to point out that Mr. Candler and some of his folks are here to answer any questions."

There were still no questions.

Unintelligible: As Usual

Chairman Nash: "I'll entertain a motion to, I guess (unintelligible) the lease."

From 10 feet away, 2 separate recorders and your reporter's ears could not understand what Mr. Nash said. This is nothing new at The 5.

The Halpatter website was one page at the time The 5 approved the lease.                         Click to enlarge.

Mr. Foreman helped Commissioner Nash, "I would say to enter into an agreement in principle with Halpatter to lease the building on a five-year term, subject to later ratification of the specific additions."

Mr. Foreman did not mention the four 5 year renewals included in the lease, nor their terms.

There was not one word of discussion – it was unanimous.

The County 5 approved a lease prepared by County Attorney Foreman to lease a county owned property. The County record does not show that anyone asked or directed Mr. Foreman to prepare any lease regarding the Montgomery Building.

The record does show that on April 12, 2016, Mr. Candler contacted County Manager Scott and County Attorney Foreman via email. He began, "Over the past several days, I have been preparing some figures for you as support for the lease that will be presented to the County Commissioners next week. (emphasis added) After compiling these, I wanted to give you an opportunity to look them over and then I wanted to clarify some of the terms under which the lease will be structured."

Mr. Candler prepared his own lease. That lease was not presented to the County 5 for consideration.

On April 28, 2016, County Attorney Foreman decided to revise Mr. Candler's lease. Mr. Foreman, who is also the EDAB attorney, advised County Manager Scott that he "suggested to Chris that providing an opportunity to each commissioner to be briefed on this project would be helpful."

Mr. Foreman, Florida's only popularly elected County Attorney, did not explain his reasons for evading the Sunshine Law and the EDAB. 


After the meeting, Mr. Foreman clarified his earlier remark to the County 5, "I believe each of you was briefed on the pros and cons of the project."

Mr. Foreman, said, "All five of these people met with him [Candler] and talked with him. They looked at what he provided to them." It is not clear what Mr. Candler provided or if anything did not make it into the public record.

A short while later Mr. Candler was candid. "We're still working on the financing," he said.

The Columbia County 5: the legend continues. 

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