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Columbia County Observer

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"Mr. Columbia County" Dale Williams Talks About the Jail and the Possibility of Renovation

Mark Hunter's New Jail Cost Estimate: $35,000,000 & counting

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – For over three decades Dale Williams was the County Manager of Columbia County. Over the course of time he became known as "Mr. Columbia County." No one knew or knows more about Columbia County and the county jail than Dale Williams. As the County 5 barrels ahead to spend $35 mil on a new jail complex as a monument to Columbia County's Golden Boy, Sheriff Mark Hunter, it is curious that The 5 have not asked the former County Manager to give his opinion on the need for a 100% replacement versus a less costly and manageable renovation.


In the early 80s both County Manager Williams and Commissioner Ronald Williams managed the construction of the jail from Dale Williams' office. Accordingly, if anyone knows about the jail it is Dale Williams ("Mr. Williams").

Since 1993, until a couple of years ago, former Facilities Maintenance Director Art Butler and his staff maintained the jail from top to bottom.

Throughout the jail discussions, neither County Manager Dale Williams nor Facilities Director Art Butler was asked to share their institutional knowledge by Columbia County's infamous 5.

On March 11, 2018 your reporter spoke with former County Manager Dale Williams about the County jail. Before we began the conversation, Mr. Williams agreed that the conversation was on the record.

Baker County

Your reporter began by saying that Baker County should be the example of building a jail and depending on other people to fill it up. Sources in Baker County think the cost of their jail may yet put Baker County under water.

The County Studied the Cost of Renovation

County Manager Dale Williams (file)

Your reporter: "Earlier you told me that the County did a study and they got a price of somewhere around $8 million to redo the present jail. Jody DuPree [County Commissioner in 2008] thought it could be done for six and those papers were somewhere around the County offices. Sometime later I was advised that there are no papers in the County offices regarding your research and plans for the jail renovation."

Mr. Williams explained: "Let's define papers. Was an outside consultant hired? No. The plan from my administration? Mark [Sheriff Mark Hunter] is aware of this. This would not be new to the Sheriff. There was about an eight million dollar renovation plan to cure the problems at the jail, not to build a new one."

Mr. Williams mentioned this was done about the time of the original interlocal agreement (around 2008).

Mr. Williams said, "I asked myself, 'What are we going to do about the jail?'"

8 to 8 1/2 Million Dollars To Cure the Problem

Earlier today, former Facilities Director Art Butler explained his function at the jail. "We dealt with everything from top to bottom. We repaired the roof structure, electrical issues and dealt with moisture problems. The main building had moisture problems. I am not aware of the County doing a study to remediate the situation."

Your reporter asked, "Would you appear before the County 5 and share your institutional knowledge.

Mr. Butler responded, "Yes."

For 20 years, Mr. Butler kept the County's building running. This 2008 letter of appreciation from Com.  DuPree speaks for itself.

Mr. Williams continued, "That's when we looked into what we thought would be feasible and reasonable. We did some stuff with the Department of Management Services for the state. They keep records. So, if a County built a 250 inmate housing quad, all you have to do is get with them and you can pretty much determine how much that cost. In doing that, I came up with a number of what we would need: eight -- eight and a half million dollars to cure our jail problem. I thought it was a good number."

Your reporter asked, "Did you know how you were going to pay for that?"

Mr. Williams answered, "I had these conversations with the Sheriff. My plan was when Target began paying property taxes, we would use that money in order to pay the debt necessary to renovate the jail."

Mr. Williams said that after he left the County, the County's consultant said, "'You can't renovate what you've got.'"

The Observer, "But that's not what you came up with."

Mr. Williams continued, "One of the biggest problems with the jail, and the Sheriff is absolutely right about this, is the classification of inmates. It is very difficult with the configuration of the jail. The housing side of the jail is a tremendous issue."

Your reporter, "Nobody disputes that."

The Williams Plan

"Just like they are going to do at the new jail, my plan was to build two new housing centers for the inmates; the three that you have now: minimum, medium, and maximum security would go away. I didn't advocate that to be torn down. If nothing else, they could be used for storage and other things. Once you get the housing things done, the admin portion needed quite a bit of work."

"I do remember doing an aeriel showing how these things could be located, but did we ever sit down with an architect? No. I still believe that is what I would have proposed had I been there. We were not contemplating building an entire new facility."

Your reporter asked, "So when you came up with the eight to 8 1/2 million, what exactly does that get you?"

Mr. Williams answered, "It built new housing and detention areas; renovated the admin building; pretty much a new kitchen; updated the communication equipment and inmate visitation areas; that was another big problem that was identified by the jail task force committee."

Your reporter followed up, "So then everybody just forgot about it?"

Mr. Williams replied, "I never got asked about any proposed plans or thoughts about what to do about the jail."

Your reporter said, "I'm asking you."

Mr. Williams answered, "I know you are, but I'm talking about after I left the County by the County Administration. When the issue came up they said –'what do we do' -- they hire an architect. Nobody asked what our thoughts were, or even if we had any thoughts about what to do with the jail."

"At that time Jody [Commissioner Jody DuPree] thought you could do it for way less than 8 1/2 million."

The Observer asked, "Did you keep a file?"

Mr. Williams answered, "There was a file. There was paperwork. I had the aeriel; I had some numbers from MS [Department of Management Services]; my notes; all of that was in a file."

County Manager Williams:
He is ready to explain his findings to The 5

Your reporter followed up, "If the County asks you to come down and explain to them what your administration had found when you were there, would you explain it to them at a meeting?"

Mr. Williams without a pause, "Sure I would. That is what I proposed to do."

"In my mind, there was a way to cure those problems."

"In the scheme of things, I never considered that to be major-major, because I knew in my mind that there was a way to cure those problems; to do a good job; and we had a way to pay for it."

Your reporter: "Now they don't have a way to pay for it."

Mr. Williams: "There was a file. We got some studies from other counties -- those were in the file."

Sheriff Mark Hunter. According to Mr. Williams, he knew about the renovation plans. The Sheriff now wants a $35 mil monument (file)

"Had I stayed with the county I would have made that pitch at some point, but I never did. I did have these conversations with the Sheriff. At that time it really wasn't his primary focus. He was worried about budget stability and those things."

This was going on at the time of the great recession in and around 2008.

You reporter said, "There was a lot of stuff going on at that time."

Mr. Williams concluded, "The one thing I do know is that clearly there are deficiencies at the jail. There needs to be corrective work and no matter what you do it's expensive. 8 1/2 million dollars is still a lot of money to me. I believe we could have cured the problem. The jail would have been substantial for many years to come. My way of paying for it is what I knew would be revenue added from Target."


Early in the year your reporter had filed a records request for all information regarding former County Manager Williams' jail renovation plan. The County was not able to provide any documents.

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