Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Econ Dev Advisory Bd Accused of Leaks
Econ Dev Dir Accused of 12th hr Briefings

Ronald Williams (file)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's Economic Development Advisory Board's monthly meeting had Columbia County's 36 year veteran county commissioner Ronald Williams accusing the Economic Development Advisory Board of leaks, while Board member Stephen Douglas was not happy about Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter's last minute briefings.

After the perfunctory approval of routine matters and old business, the Board got down to business, the discussion of a project code named Project 17-8.

Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter was looking for the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) to recommend approval or denial of an incentive package for Project 17-8.

Project 17-8

Mr. Hunter explained the project. He said it was a local manufacturing project which was composed of two phases totaling a $10.7 mil investment.

He continued: this project is 33 jobs; $7.7mil capital investment; a 65k sq.ft. facility, which needs a rail capacity of 100 cars.

Mr. Hunter explained the company is requesting a tax exemption for 8 yrs.; asking that the county donate the land ($300,000 value); and a tax abatement of $37,000 a year for 10 years.

The tax abatement translates into a loss of county revenue of $37,209 annually for 8 years.

Not mentioned, but included in the material, the completion deadline is 48 months.

Stephen Douglas (file)

Board Member Stephen Douglas: not happy

Long time board member and businessman Stephen Douglas said, "I've got some questions about the process about how these projects are being brought to us. We get loaded on and not briefed prior to our meetings."

Chairman Williams responded [as spoken]:  "At a certain point we will, but for some reason when we say this, we say confidentiality and as soon as we leave this room everybody in Columbia County know who it is. So until this project get a little further on, then Glenn will bring everybody in and brief them on the project. This is just preliminary right now... Confidentiality on this board ain't workin'.  It's not workin'."

Businessman and board member Glenn Owens asked, "So you're sayin' the public is finding out about it from this board? That's what you just said."

Commissioner Williams answered, "From somewhere."

Wasting no time, Mr. Owens said, "No, you said from this board."

Com. Williams answered, "Well, from the boards. I'll say the boards."

Glenn Owens (file)

Mr. Owens, "I just want to make sure what you're sayin'."

Com. Williams, "Well, a lot of times it's only discussed at this board right here and for some reason everybody knows about it."

Your reporter, who has been covering economic development in Columbia County for many years, volunteered, "I never found out anything from this board."

Had the board been adequately briefed?

Mr. Douglas said Econ Dev Dir Hunter wants the board to vote on a project on which it hadn't been briefed.

Com. Williams said, "No, no. We're not gonna' vote on it till the board is briefed. There gonna' be no cold turkey."

Mr. Douglas responded, "Ok, that's my concern."

Local trucking magnate board member Terry Dicks added, "As far as this board, I don't know of any board member speaking out of turn on stuff. I think what happens is the general public finds out about it after these meetings and people start speculating."

Com. Williams said, "It won't be a project come that you all got to vote on without bein' briefed on it."

Econ Dev Dir Hunter: his side

Glenn Hunter (file)

Mr. Hunter said, "I briefed everyone, but I wasn't able to reach Gus [Rentz] and I wasn't able to reach Mr. Douglas. I tried to contact him yesterday. He was out of town."

Commissioner Williams went around the table asking if the board members had been briefed. When Mr. Williams got to County Attorney Joel Foreman, Mr. Foreman said, "Briefly, yesterday afternoon."

Mr. Owens said he was briefed "late yesterday afternoon."

Mr. Douglas wasn't happy. He said, "Mr. Chair, briefing is not a phone call a day before a meeting... We get phone calls blown up at us the day before and we really don't have a chance to really think about [it]. This is important stuff for Columbia County. That's my angst with it."

Com. Williams asked for a calendar, "Give me a calendar. Put me a calendar up. Is there enough time to have a meeting?"

Commissioner Williams asked if everyone was all right with a meeting next Wednesday.

Commissioner Williams said this "will give everyone a chance to think about it."

Board member Terry Dicks said this would give Stephen [Douglas] time to get briefed on the project.

Commissioner Williams talking to Mr. Douglas said, "Everybody here is all right except for you."

Mr. Williams asked, "Everybody else need any more briefing? You need any more briefing, Glenn?" [Glenn Owens]

Mr. Owens answered, "No. I have some issues I have to talk about."

The Board voted to continue the meeting next Wednesday to discuss the project.

Competition and Confidentiality

Your reporter asked if Columbia County was in competition with other areas.

Mr. Hunter said, "They are looking at other places."

Your reporter asked if "all this confidentially has made a difference?"

Commissioner Williams said, "Confidentiality is confidentiality. If they ask confidentially you have to respect it."

Terry Dicks (file)

Committee member, businessman Terry Dicks added, "I don't think we're trying to do something bad. In the business world, today there is a lot of competition. If you are a businessman and you have a project on the table and it could give you an advantage in your industry, do you want to go tell the world? We need to respect their position as a business, because they do have options to go other places."

Glen Owens added that he thought the committee could get the information a little quicker so that we can think about it. "I think that's the frustration that the board feels sometimes... Getting us this information ahead of time, that's the key. I think we can definitely do better at that."


On June 14 at 8:30am, leading members of the County's business community will again take time away from their businesses to deal with Columbia County's economic development and Project 17-8.

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