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

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – For decades, economic development and economic development meeting notices have been problematic in Columbia County. In 2009, what became known as the Rudder Team, a mysteriously appointed group of County insiders, intentionally set up meetings to keep both the public and some county commissioners in the dark. In a blast from the past, last Tuesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) Site Selection Subcommittee meeting slipped through the cracks.


Beginning in July 2009 and ending a year later, Columbia County spent $81,868 dollars on an economic development study which came up with things like, "Good customer service means you should call the customer back;" "Engage in regional leadership;" and have strategic goals of having "outstanding market communications [website]" and "the right portfolio of sites."

Seven years later Columbia County Economic Development is still working on a website that is not an embarrassment and it is still developing "the right portfolio of sites."

The notorious North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP), a group headed by FSU's Jeff Hendry, had begun another site development project. He wanted to introduce the concept to Columbia County.

On the morning of June 27, 2016, the NFEDP's Hendry emailed Econ. Dev. Dir. Hunter, "Please advise about your preferred date the week of July 11; if for some reason that week will not work, please provide some alternative dates the week before or after."

Glenn Hunter      (file)

Late that afternoon, Mr. Hunter firmed up the date of July 12 at 9 am.

On the morning of June 29 after a long illness, Mr. Hunter's mother passed away.

For the next 6 days, the Hunters were making arrangements.

On July 8 at 12:35 pm, the NFEDP's Hendry emailed Mr. Hunter and reminded him of the strategic site identification meeting scheduled  for July 12.

Mr. Hunter told the Observer, "Things were pretty rough, I just forgot about it."

At 2:49 pm on July 8, the County's Econ. Dev. Office Manager sent an email to EDAB members, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, and County Commissioner Ronald Williams.

Mr. Hendry had previously recommended inviting the County Commissioners as well as the property appraiser and others.

The objective of the meeting was to go through each of the sites that was identified and “ground truth” the sites.

On the County's agenda since 2009, it is not clear why the presentation was not scheduled for a regular meeting of the Economic Development Advisory Board.

On Tuesday, July 12 the meeting was held. No member of the media attended. According to emails that were obtained by the Observer, the media was not notified.

July 15: EDAB Meets

On July 15, after being rescheduled a couple of times, the EDAB met.

At the conclusion of the meeting your reporter inquired about the lack of proper notice of the Tuesday subcommittee meeting with the NFEDP and the Site Selector:

"My question is this. The email didn't go to everybody. It doesn't take a lot to put in somebody's email address, but it did go to the county hierarchy. I'd like to know why nobody in the County saw fit to notice that meeting. I know Assistant County Manager Ward got the notice. It [the meeting] made it onto the website at the last minute. There was no agenda posted with it, like it's supposed to be. I don't understand why Mr. Ward didn't take care of this." (abridged)

Commissioner Nash asked, "Do you care to answer that Mr. Ward?"

Scott Ward               (file)

Mr. Ward replied, "If you'd like me to answer it, I will."

Your reporter added "I'd like you to answer it."

Mr. Nash, "Go ahead."

Barely audible, Mr. Ward continued, "I was unaware that it needed the public requirement of notice."

Your reporter, "Can you say it again please."

Mr. Ward continued, "I was unaware that it needed it. I got an email. I didn't get any details. I just got an email -- an invite. It was done at the last minute. Glenn and I had a conversation yesterday... There's nothing else we can do. It was an oversight."


Economic Development Director Hunter told the Observer, "It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led up to the late notice. I have put procedures in place to make sure this doesn't happen again. It is important that the public and the media have timely notice of our meetings."

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