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Jack Berry Hwy Crash Lands. Confusion, All Routes Rejected. The Next Step May Be the FL DOT's

A Record Filled With Columbia County Alternative Facts & Memories


On February 2, 2017, the Jack Berry Hwy Tax Watch Turkey crash landed as it became clear that the County 5 violated its Charter and had an illegal meeting which kicked off the project. By the end of the Jack Berry Hwy discussion, The 5 was in confusion and had rejected all routes proposed by the FL DOT study, but they still wanted the money for an undefined road design. A modification of the 1977 state and federal approved plan could have eliminated any environmental impacts and used mostly existing roads. The next step may be the FL DOT's.

COLUMBIA COUNTY – As reported earlier, 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 Hospital Authority Manager, began planning a road project involving the County and Lake City.


Ms. Sherrod (2008)

Other than bumps and disrepair of the City roads surrounding the hospital, the maintenance of which is the responsibility of Lake City, none of the area's Ambulance Companies were complaining about the ambulance routes to Shands at Lake Shore Hospital.

During the decade your reporter has been attending LSHA Board meetings meetings, those meetings have been attended by Rhonda Sherrod, Chief Executive Officer of the Hospital. Neither Ms. Sherrod, nor any of the hospital staff members that attended Board meetings with her, ever complained about ambulance access to the hospital, nor did they complain about the location of the helipad.

2012:
Secret Meeting With the Gov's Board and Auth Manager Berry

During a County budget work shop on May 3, 2012, then long time County Manager Dale Williams informed the County 5 about "a multi-agency road/access improvement project regarding east side access to Lake Shore Hospital."

He said, "We set down and had conversation with Lake Shore Hospital Authority members and their director."

The Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board is subject to the FL Sunshine Laws and meeting notice requirements.

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority minutes between January and April of 2012 are silent regarding any meeting between, "We and the Authority [board] members and their director [Jack Berry]."

2012:
County Budget Workshop

During the May 3, 2012 County budget workshop County Manager Dale Williams reported on the east side access to Lake Shore Hospital.

He discussed Community Redevelopment funding for the project. This funding was to be contingent on the City agreeing to fund the road improvements through an allocation of tax money paid by the hospital which eventually went to the Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA). The combined County-City contribution would have been about $80k a year. A special reserve fund was to be set up.

County Manager Williams said this would be "a program that would cure a major ongoing problem."

The real problem was that the City wasn't taking care of its streets.

County Manager Williams continued, "Our money, coupled with support from the City CRA; coupled with some support from Lake Shore Hospital Authority; coupled with some Community Redevelopment [Development] Block Grants, will provide or should provide sufficient money to accomplish a project like this; hopefully in a very short period of time."

Commissioner Williams added [as spoken], "Board, we've been meetin' with -unintelligible- three months now with Lake Shore Hospital and the City of Lake City to talk about this project."

Commissioner Williams said the "only way to improve the Washington Street corridor from Hernando to Patterson Street" was to move forward with the project.  He opined, "Those three entities are on board to put the resources there to make it happen."

Commissioner Jody DuPree followed up, "So you're sayin' the City said they'll forget their tax dollars they're collectin' – their $40,000. Is that what you've said?"

County Manager Williams: "Commissioner, that's what I've been told. If the City doesn't, then we need to revisit the project and viability."

Commissioner Williams: "Mr. DuPree, they said that they would do that. But until we get it in writing and make that commitment, this board will not be obligated to foster this deal unless all three entities are involved."

Commissioner DuPree:  "We're talkin' about the City dollars, not the CRA?"

County Manager Williams: "The City at least should match everything the County is doing, I would think."

Commissioner Williams made the May 3, 2012 motion that was passed unanimously:

"I move that the $40,000 in additional tax revenue from the Lake Shore Hospital be held in abeyance and not part of our operatin' budget until that time we decide whether all stakeholders are involved to participate. If not, that money will revert back to our operatin' budget. If everyone is on line to make this project by participatin' in it with the -unintelligible- then we also use our $40,000 to advance the project."

That is not what is reported in the May 3, 2012 County minutes. (see "6" below)

The City never approved the deal. The fund was never established.

The project should have died then because it never met the requirements of the motion.

Feb. 2, 2017:
Alternative Facts From County Manager Ben Scott

As previously reported, the Jack Berry Highway was discussed during the County 5 Feb. 2, 2017 meeting. Transparency Takes a Back Seat in Jack Berry Orchestrated County-City-Hosp Auth Road Project

A short while after County Manager Scott recommended, without any reason, The 5 approve the Jack Berry Hwy project, Commissioner Williams opined on the May 2012 alternate route [as spoken]:

"If we roll the clock back, when this was first brought to the County attention about the road, the discussion - if I remember up front was that – and maybe age have takin' away my memory, but I don't think so, that Patterson Street would –unintelligible- first about commin' down Patterson Street – in either would come down Washington or punch through Leon Street over Patterson. You doin' two things here. You improve Patterson Street and you improve Leon Street -- cause Leon Street goes right into the back of the emergency room and there was no impact whatsoever to the wetlands or anything else. It was a clean-cut deal. All that would have to be done was to buy those two parcels... –unintelligible-."

County Manager Scott responded, "Commissioner, you have a good memory. I did look up those minutes from the discussion of this road -- I think it was in 2012 -- I want to say May of 2012. In the minutes that was the discussion. Exactly."


         This is the "Exactly" portion of the May 2012 minutes to which Mr. Scott referred.

Commissioner Nash asked, "Do you have a cost estimate of the Alternate Route?"

The County never did one.

Commissioner Nash asked who owned the house on Leon before the road turned left.

There was confusion regarding who owned which houses in the footprint of the proposed roads.

County Engineer Chad Williams explained that a feasibility study for the road "would dictate what's exactly going to be required as far as lane widths and number of lanes and those types of issues."

Former Lake Shore Hospital Authority member and now County Commissioner Tim Murphy said he spoke to administrators and residents of the community. He didn't say any of them thought the project was needed or worthwhile, adding out of nowhere, "I'm not going to put a price on a life."

Remarking on the Pruett email, Mr. Murphy opined, "I feel for the lady and her husband who did purchase the house over there on the Lake -- a beautiful place. My point is this has been talked about since 1974... It's our responsibility as taxpayers and constituents to pay attention what's goin' on in the community. Do your homework -- I did mine... I've already put my output to the FDOT and the Florida legislature."

Alternative Facts by Mr. Murphy: The Jack Berry Highway until just recently was never on the County agenda, the City Agenda, and barely on the Hospital Authority agenda. It would have been difficult to "do your homework," as Mr. Murphy recommended.

February 2, 2012:
Alternative Memories from Commissioner DePratter

Commissioner Rusty DePratter addressed The 5: "Mr. Chairman, I did look at three requests from the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners to the representative's office for this road in three different years -- three or four years -- so at some time this Board did know what was goin' on. I had forgotten until I read some documents... The way I feel about it is if I ask for it then I need to take it."

Commissioner DePratter did not volunteer when or from whom he received the documents.

Florida DOT, via a public record request, had only provided one County request, the Scott letter which was dated February 2, 2015.

There is nothing in any County minutes that authorized Mr. Scott to send that letter. The County 5 never approved the project. There is nothing in the County minutes that show the Board or the public knew what was going on.

More Alternatnative Facts

Commissioner Williams asked Mr. Scott, "Ben, the letter that went to Tallahassee requesting the funds, did that letter designate a route or just requestin' the money to construct a road to the hospital?"

Mr. Scott responded, "It did not designate a route."

Alternative Fact: Mr. Scott's February 2, 2015 letter to Ms. Porter did have a map with a route attached. A map included with the October 2016 DOT Emergency Access Study, a map labeled New Road Alternative Alignments calls the County's original route, the "Initial Preferred Alignment."                                    

Commissioner Nash asked Mr. Scott, "Ben, I'd like to know on the letters that were sent, were they directed by the Board to be sent? I'd like to know that."

Mr. Scott responded, "Like I said, the minutes that I read back in 2012 -- Dale Williams -- I had to go back and actually listen to the recording. Dale Williams did discuss with the Board applying for various grants and the legislative appropriation is a way to apply for grants. Did he come back and say here's a legislative letter that I am sending for the legislative request? I can't say he did that. He just expressed to the Board that he would be applying for various grants. That was done two years by Dale and late last year it was by me."

Commissioner Nash: "OK."

Alternative Scott Facts:

 1) Audio tapes are not minutes.

Fact: minutes are minutes. They are recorded by the Clerk of the Court and approved by the County 5.

2) According to Mr. Scott, "Dale Williams did discuss with the Board applying for various grants."

Fact: Dale Williams did not discuss "applying for various grants." He discussed applying for "Community Redevelopment [Development] Block Grants" (CDBG). That is not a legislative appropriation, which is what was requested from the legislature.

Before Commissioner DePratter made his motion there was the usual County 5 confusion and Mr. DePratter, after some chatter, withdrew his initial motion and made it again. The Board did not approve the routes in the study and agreed there was no route preference.

Mr. DePratter's motion included the phrase "pretty adamant" and Mr. Foreman added his own language to the motion.

When everyone finished with the motion, Chairman Williams asked, "Madam Clerk, do you have that?"

The Clerk responded with a chuckle, "If the tape does."

Some of The 5 also chuckled.

The motion, inside the tape, carried unanimously.

This morning, the motion was unavailable from the Clerk's Office.

Epilogue

The Columbia County 5: the legend continues.

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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.