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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Transparency Takes a Back Seat in Jack Berry Orchestrated County-City-Hosp Auth Road Project

Visit by Hosp Auth Chief to Home Owner - Covered Up by County


The Pruetts thought they were buying a home on a quite, barely traveled street. Then Jack Berry, Columbia County, and Lake City emerged from the shadows.

COLUMBIA COUNTY – Beginning in 2006, under the guidance of Jackson P. "Jack" Berry, then a member of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board, the Lake Shore Hospital Authority went on a wild-eyed plan-less land buying spree. Lake Shore Hosp Auth: $4,000,000 spent in real-estate spending spree - still no plan

Beginning in 2012, mostly out of the public's eye, Jack Berry, now the Hosp Auth Manager, began planning a road project involving the County and Lake City.

For four years the circuitous route of this mostly sub-rosa project was traversing the back corridors of Columbia County, Lake City, the Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority, and the office of Representative Elizabeth Porter.

Then in early 2016, after local resident Barbara Pruett wrote a letter about the project,  Hosp Auth Chieftain Berry appeared on the Pruett's doorstep.

The Letter

In March of 2016, Ms. Pruett, whose homestead was in the way of the barely known road project, wrote a letter to all the elected City and Hosp Auth officials and others opposing the project's route.

Former Hosp Auth Board member and now County Commissioner Tim Murphy was sent a copy of the letter, as was Richard Powell, the Authority's accountant-internal auditor-external auditor-financial advisor and the County's auditor-budget advisor - financial advisor.

In May 2016, Hosp Auth Chieftain Berry was setting up meetings with the DOT office in Lake City to discuss the road project and its route. It is not clear if DOT knew of the Pruett letter.

On January 5, 2017, the Columbia County 5 discussed the road project: Cnty 5 Temporarily Nix Jack Berry Hwy, Nash Caves to Nephew, Legislative Turkey Lives.

Commissioner Tim Murphy should have had a copy of the Pruett letter since March of 2016, ten months earlier.

On January 13, 2017, the Pruetts followed up with a letter to the officials of the County, restating their objections to a proposed ambulance access road which was now clearly going to blow by their home.


                                                                                 The correspondence chain is here.

This past Thursday, February 2, almost a year after writing her letter, the letter was brought up during The 5's discussion of the road project.

The Columbia County Charter requires that the letter be provided and made available to the public with the agenda material, the material that the County 5 uses to make its decisions.

Thursday Night: The Letter Leaked Out

During the conversation about the road and the route designed by the DOT, Commissioner Williams asked County Manager Ben Scott about the Pruett letter, failing to mention the Pruetts  by name, or any history of the letter, which by now should have been common knowledge to all the commissioners as well as the County's top brass.


The moving of the helipad (to the green box) puts the landing zone feet from the HIVAC, oxygen storage, and utility center of the hospital. The Pruett's home is at the intersection of the orange and yellow lines in the bottom of the map.                          ++ enlarge

Commissioner Williams, referring to the map projected on the screen, [all of Mr. Williams' remarks are as spoken] asked, "Is it true or not true that we did have a e-mail, a conversation with a resident that's on that corner right up there?"

The County Manager Ben Scott explained the email, but did not explain why it wasn't available. He didn't read from it. He left out the part about Jack Berry knocking on the Pruett's door.

Commissioner Williams followed up, "And it is fair to say that she was very upset from the manner in which she was spoke to about the road?"

Mr. Scott responded, "Yes sir. She expressed that in her e-mail that she was told that this road was going to happen whether she liked it or not and that's what the e-mail said she didn't like."

Who Told Her That?

Your reporter asked, "Who told her that? Where is the e-mail? Who told her that? That wasn't in the packet."

Neither County Manager, the elected County Attorney Joel Foreman, nor any of The 5 revealed who told her that.

County Manager Scott responded, "I can get you a copy of the e-mail."

Your reporter followed up, referring to the commissioners, "They got it  – We're supposed to have that Joel." (Joel Foreman – the elected County Attorney)

Commissioner Williams said, "He said he would send you a copy."

Your reporter followed up, "Yeah, but the public's supposed -- if you got it – we're supposed to have it."

County Manager Scott said, "It wasn't presented at this meeting. It was forwarded when the e-mail was forwarded. It's not part of tonight's meeting."

Your reporter followed up, "He just mentioned it. What do you think -- I'm stupid? Yeah – must be. Sorry – go ahead."

In 2006, your reporter sponsored a change to the County Charter the intent of which provided that the information the County provided to the Commissioners, which they used in their decision making process, be provided to the public via the internet before the meetings. The County voters approved the change with an 80% plus approval.

Epilogue

On Friday your reporter contacted Hosp Auth Chieftain Berry with, in relevant part, the following:

Please find attached a letter, beginning on page two that you, the LSHA Board and others should have received on or about March 24, 2016. Note that this is before the DOT finalized its Lake Shore Hospital Emergency Access Study (Draft 2016) and before you began arranging meetings with DOT in April 2016.

Question 1:  Did you provide the March 24, 2016 Pruett letter to DOT?

On January 13, 2017, Teddy Pruett wrote a letter to Columbia County. The highlighted part of the letter states the following:

Jack Berry appeared on my doorstep. He assured me that this ambulance access road on Laguna Drive would happen, he just did not know when. He also said it would be a wide road, requiring land from my home and/or that of neighbors.

Question 2:  Did you say that?

Mr. Berry did not respond.

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Jack Berry Authority Manager Berry is a widely known public figure and political operative. He has an interesting track record after four decades on the political map.