Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Chairman Murphy's False Claim Regarding Sheriff's Jail Capacity Remarks – Jail Project Not "Killed"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – During last week's September 20 final budget hearing, a look at the budget showed that the County 5 was ignoring the recent vote against the Sheriff's new jail and was keeping all jail funding in place. As the meeting drew to a close, County 5 Chairman Tim Murphy announced, "The jail project has not been killed and added, "The Sheriff has never come to this board or out there in the public and says, 'I'm runnin' out of beds,' or nothin' along that line." The Chairman's remarks regarding the Sheriff were mostly not true.

Sheriff Hunter was all business at the May 27, 2014 meeting.

On May 27, 2014, Sheriff Hunter threatened to give the jail back to the County if his budget demands were not met: Columbia County 5 Facing a $50,000,000 Public Safety Crisis

During that 2014 meeting, Sheriff Hunter told The 5, "Last night our count was 269..." Sheriff Hunter then added that the County needed a 500 bed facility and that he has had as many as 300 inmates in the jail.

Numbers provided by the Sheriff to the Department of Corrections show that the average daily population in the County jail for the first five months of 2014 was 210.

On June 12, 2014, Sheriff Hunter again mentioned the County should consider a 500 bed jail, adding, "I’m trying to use good business sense to do this."

Also during the June 12 meeting, all the participants (State Attorney, Public Defender, Jail Administrator, etc.) gave a summary of their concerns regarding Columbia County crime, jail capacity, and other issues revolving around public safety.

When then County Manager Dale Williams asked Sheriff Hunter for his comments the Sheriff said, "I will give you mine in writing."

It does not appear that the Sheriff did that. If he did, four years later the findings still have not been shared with the public.

Sheriff Hunter was not prepared to answer the length of the average stay in the jail, nor was he prepared to provide statistics for the amount of people from Columbia County vs. those from out of town.

Four years later, those statistics have still not been officially released.

Sheriff Hunter Not Prepared Again
This Time for Senator Bradley

On Jan. 4, 2017, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter met State Senator Rob Bradley. The Senator came prepared and peppered Sheriff Hunter with questions. The Sheriff was not facing the familiar 5, where he never has to answer questions. The Sen. wasn't giving out free passes.

On January 4, 2017, during a meeting of the Columbia County Legislative Delegation during a conversation about the County Jail, Senator Rob Bradley asked Sheriff Hunter, "How many of those [inmates] are pretrial and how many of them are...?"

The Senator didn't get out the rest of his question. Sheriff Hunter cut him off.

"I would have to get those numbers. I can't give you that off the top of my head," he said.

When the Sheriff is not talking
Somebody else is talking for him

As has been the case with the County 5 for over a decade, PowerPoints are relatively useless. The PowerPoint, prepared by the consultant for the PSCC, was no exception. The lack of any handouts exacerbated the situation.

On January 17, 2017, Public Safety Coordinating Council (PSCC) met at the library.

Sheriff Hunter didn't do a lot of talking. When the discussion revolved to capacity and beds, Clarence Rutherford, the consultant said, "We have justified a bed count of around 330 -- 350 -- 360, somewhere in that neighborhood, which is consistent with the Sheriff's thoughts and desires."

A little while later Mr. Rutherford mentioned a new jail with 384 beds and your reporter asked how he arrived at that number.

Mr. Rutherford responded, "He [Sheriff Hunter] didn't say 384 exactly. He said look at it and try to get as close as you can to the number. He needs about 330 -- 335 today. So about as close as we could get is a half pod."

Your reporter followed up, "He needs 335 today?"

Mr. Rutherford had a one word answer, "Yup."

A short while later Sheriff Hunter said, "We're averagin' 235 a day is what we house."

Sheriff Hunter's 235 number does not jive with the numbers he submitted to the Dept. of Corrections for all of 2016, which clearly show the average daily population of the County jail was 215.3.

Numbers All Over the Map

During the 9:00 am May 25, 2017 budget workshop, a meeting in which not one member from the public attended, jail capacity was again an issue. Sheriff Hunter mentioned that everyone needed to compare "apples to apples," although it wasn't clear what the apples were and the bed count at the proposed new facility jumped around from 384 to 448 to 512.

Columbia County Time
Not quite "dog years"

During the June 19, 2018 so-called Town Hall Meeting (Hunter Hilton Part III: Sheriff Hunter "Trust Me") to promote the new Hunter Hilton (jail) County Manager Ben Scott articulated a Columbia County Aging Plan, which didn't quite measure the age of the jail in dog years, but it was close. Mr. Scott told the gathering, " This jail is 30 years old... basically it's a 126 years old facility."

Sheriff Hunter added to the conversation by telling the 30 attendees, "Nobody wants a new jail. This is not somethin' I wanted to do."

This clearly does not jive with the Sheriff's earlier remarks in 2014 when he was looking for a 500 bed jail.

Once again, the Sheriff can't back up his numbers.

He said, "We going to have some cost savings on manpower." But he came with nothing to show how many men or how much money the County taxpayers were going to save for their $30mil plus investment in the new Hunter Hilton.

He still hasn't.

July 31, 2018: Sheriff Hunter MIA
Leaves the Details to his Jail Brigade

There were almost as many folks from the Sheriff's Office (back row) in Fort White as there were residents. See: County Jail: Average Daily Population Exaggerated, Misinformation, Over Budget on the Drawing Board

By the time the last Hunter-Hilton Jail Town Hall Meeting occurred in the south end of the County in Fort White, the Sheriff had abandoned attending the Town Halls and left them to his Jail Brigade.

His spokesperson was Captain Chris Douglas, the County Jail Administrator.

Captain Douglas explained the jail overcrowding: "The overcrowding and the numbers are a little bit misleading. I've been the Jail Administrator for the last two years; a little over two years. And I've had five or six occasions where we have went way over the 254 number; we've gotten up around 265, 270."

He continued, "Looking back over history the numbers have popped up over 300, up over around 330."

Captain Joe Lucas, a former Jail Administrator told the Fort White audience: "Before Capt. Douglas took over the jail, I was the jail administrator. We averaged 284 for 2015; 2016 was 312."

The Department of Corrections averages for those two years are 222 and 215.3 respectively.


At the conclusion of the last meeting of The 5, Chairman Murphy announced, "The Sheriff has never come to this board or out there in the public and says, 'I'm runnin' out of beds,' or nothin' along that line." The Chairman's remarks regarding the Sheriff were not true.

In 2014 Sheriff Hunter told The 5, "Last night our count was 269" and that he has had as many as 300 inmates in the jail.

Most recently, the current and past jail administrators have claimed the jail was running at over capacity.


Chairman Murphy was appointed by the County 5 to represent them on the knife wielding jail budget committee.

According to opinions of the Florida Attorney General, a single member of a board or commission will be subject to the sunshine law if that one person has been delegated the authority to act on behalf of the entire board or commission.

That is what Mr. Murphy is doing and this has been articulated by Commissioner Williams.

As it stands now, 3 of The 5 will go to the wall to deliver Sheriff Hunter a new jail, no matter what the people want.

Commissioner DePratter, who chose not to run again, does not appear to be in favor of the new jail and lame duck Everett Phillips, defeated in the last election, may not know what is going on.

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