Stew Lilker’s

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Columbia County's Strategic Plan: County Manager Misjudges Cost by 747%  (Part III)

Clerk of the Courts DeWitt Cason's Chief County Financial Officer Danielle Beard sits alone during Thursday's budget workshop. The County 5's discouragement of participation has paid off.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday evening, May 4, 2017, County Manager Ben Scott told the County 5, "I believe every one of you has an idea of what you would like to see for the future of Columbia County... We're in the middle of the process." One year ago County Manager Scott told The 5 that the charge to obtain a strategic plan would be "somewhere between 15 and $20,000."

Background: 2016

On April 21, 2016, during a budget workshop, County Manager Ben Scott brought up the subject of a county-wide strategic plan for the first time, although he said, "We've talked about this several times."

Going back to 2013, there is no record of discussion of a county-wide strategic plan before April 21, 2016.

County Manager Scott continued, "What we're recommending is in the future, the near future, we contract with a consultant that specializes in strategic planning to help us develop a strategic plan."

During the 2016 meeting, long time Columbia County icon, Commissioner Ronald Williams explained that strategic planning was recently a topic of discussion at a Small Counties Coalition meeting. He said [as spoken] that strategic planning "was a big issure in a class that we took -- that statagic planning was local government and you almost need that to have a roadmap."

County Manager Scott followed up, "I did speak to a consultant today and found out that they charge somewhere between 15 and $20,000 to help you develop that. The one that I looked at that he did was for Osceola County. He gave you a five -- a 10 -- a 20 year... that's the County as a whole, I mean that's everything. It's not just roads. It's not just economic development. It's the overall package for the County."

Mr. Scott continued, "That's kinda what we're recommending. We'd like to do that next year. So that is something we are going to be asking for during the budget process."

The only other comment was from Commissioner Nash, who volunteered, "I could give you one for free."

The County record is clear, Mr. Scott never asked to make a request for proposals to develop a strategic plan: he just did it.

See:  No Record Anywhere

Last Thursday at The 5
Government by PowerPoint

The County 5 and staff sit in the shadows. County Manager Scott refused to turn on the lights. Three people from the general public, which included Republican operatives, showed up.

Shortly after last Thursday's May 4, 2017, budget workshop got underway, County Manager Scott told the County 5, "I believe every one of you on this board has an idea of what you would like to see for the future of Columbia County... We're in the middle of the process."

Again, County Manager Scott ignored mentioning when the Board approved or discussed going out for requests for a Strategic Plan. None of The 5 asked.

About an hour later, Mr. Scott read the slides on his PowerPoint telling The 5, "As I told you before – last year, the goal for strategic planning is to where we're gonna' be at in the future..."

Earlier in the meeting your reporter had mentioned the ranking committee secretly recorded meeting.

County Manager Scott (later in the meeting) disagreed and said, "The recorder was sitting clearly on the table. We didn't try to hoo-do anybody. The recorder was sitting there."

Mr. Scott did not participate in the meeting; did not come into the meeting room; nor did he stick his head in the door. No one took photos.

County Manager Scott Explains: he was shocked

Mr. Scott explained, "As you've heard earlier today, we did receive proposals. We have ranked those proposals. I believe the committee recommended that we short list those proposals and that we conduct interviews with the top ranked firms."

As reported earlier, the committee ranked the proposals. According to Purchasing Director Ray Hill, it was not clear who was going to do the interviews.

Commissioner Nash asked, "Do you have any idea what those proposals -- the amount of money they're charging?"

Mr. Scott answered, "It varies, but it's around $100,000."

The average was $138,000.

Commissioner Williams added, "It would be worth it if we really take heed in what they tell us."

Mr. Scott added, "I was shocked by the cost, because the ones I looked at from a couple or years ago -- they paid 20 - 25- 30 thousand dollars."

It wasn't a couple of years ago, it was almost exactly one year ago.

Commissioner DePratter: not happy

Commissioner Rusty DePratter told the board, "I'm going to be hard pressed to approve that. We sat here this afternoon. We've been strategic planning for this County for the next 20 years. I'm going to have to look at this a lot differently. I don't mind interviewing the companies to see where they go. But, I read three or four plans that were in the past and there were a lot of words that you kinda' just circled back to the first word... That's a hundred grand. I can do something else with it."

Commissioner Williams said, "We need that plan for Columbia County."

Commissioner Sylvester "Bucky" Nash:
the commissioner who agrees with everybody

Commissioner Nash said he wants the County to become debt free.

Commissioner Nash listens. He did not ask to have the lights turned on.

He elaborated, "I believe in bein' debt free and payin' your way -- hopefully. It takes time to get there... I think once you get your departments where they're self-sufficient and they roll year-to-year -- year-to-year -- that's your strategic planning. A hundred thousand dollars -- ooh -- that's pretty stiff... I think we need a plan."

Commissioner Nash's nephew, Tim Murphy, the newly-elected and former LSHA board member agreed with his uncle.

Commissioner Murphy said, "That's what I read into this thing... there are going to have to be some very tough, not real popular decisions made in the real near future..."


As the meeting concluded, your reporter addressed the County 5 asking if it was serious about hiring a firm to do a strategic plan for the County.

He asked, "Before you start dragging people in to waste their time, I'm asking that this board make a decision on whether or not you're going to go forward and spend 100 or 150,000, or 200,000 -- whatever it is you decide to spend on developing a strategic plan. Out of consideration for the businessman, that you decide that before you continue with the process."

The County's leadership ignored the request and was silent.

Columbia County, the infamous county: the legend continues.

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