Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Management Put Katie's Girls At Risk Recreation Czar Dragged Feet Lighting Fields 

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – For at least a month, as the sun sank below the horizon earlier and earlier, Recreation Czar Clint Pitman's department dragged its feet in providing lights so that Fort White Girls Softball would not have to play in dangerous lighting conditions. Softball coach Katie Wheat, exasperated at the lack of action and the runaround from Mr. Pitman's department, finally asked to be put on the County agenda to address the County 5. Violating its own rules, County Manager Ben Scott's administration gave her the runaround, too.


Beginning in early September, as the days shortened, the Fort White Girls Softball Association began contacting Mr. Pitman's Landscape and Parks Department regarding the need for lighting on the girl's softball fields. The fields have lights. Getting them turned on was the issue.

Clint Pitman was slow to act. (file photo)

According to the County website, Clint Pitman is the person in charge of Columbia County Parks, Recreation and Landscaping. Mr. Pitman's most recent job description calls him the "Director of Landscape and Parks Department." Mr. Pitman is answerable to the Operations Director/Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby.

Recreation is on another part of the outdated County organizational chart and answers to a different Assistant County Manager.

While this may be confusing, it is well known that if anyone needs something from the Parks Department, Mr. Pitman is the go-to man.

As late as September 21, 2018, Janice Smithey of Mr. Pitman's department was telling girls softball, "The Board of County Commissioners have [sic] been consistent with their decision that lights do not need to be provided for practices until the time changes." [i.e., daylight savings time]

A look at the emails shows that Mr. Pitman knew what was going on and did not turn on the lights, at least for the girls softball in Fort White.

Getting on the County Agenda

The County's rules are clear and have been debated in public years ago, when it was made clear by legendary commissioner Ronald Williams that if a person wants to be on the agenda in Columbia County, they are put on the agenda. The rest of the County 5 agreed and made this part of their rules.

On September 27, softball coach Wheat, exasperated, tried to get on the County agenda to explain the issue to the County 5. She was blown off by County Manager Ben Scott's Administrative Secretary Penny Stanley.

This is not the first time someone has been blown off the agenda by the County staff or Mr. Scott in violation of established rules. It appears to be the policy of County Manager Scott to give residents a tough time, keeping them off the agenda, with the end result that the public is kept unaware in advance of citizen matters of public concern.

On September 28, 2018, Ms. Stanley emailed softball coach Wheat, "You are more than welcome to come to the board meeting and do a public comment card, you will have 2 minutes to speak."

Public comment cards are not necessary to speak at the end of County 5 meetings.

The Meeting: Katie Wheat Address the County 5

After waiting almost two hours, Katie Wheat came to the podium to address the County 5.

"My name is Katie Wheat. Most people know me as Katie. I'm from Fort White. I know I only have two minutes. I actually asked to be on the agenda. I wanted more than two minutes. I help run a recreational softball association called Fort White Girls Softball Association. I've been involved for almost 5 years. We haven't had significant issues. Right now we do have an issue."

I personally have 67 children. I don't say that to be funny. All the children that join our program are mine. I take them under my wing. I almost adopt them.

We've never had this issue before. We need practice lights during the week. We have email that shows that we've scheduled nights before. Now we're being told that we can't have them until after daylight savings time, or when the time changes. That's going to be on November 5, which is about four weeks away. We've been dealing with this for about two weeks now...

I commute from Gainesville from my job. I don't arrive at the fields until six. Almost half my team has the same issue where they cannot arrive at the fields before six.

I've been told by the Parks and Recreation Department that either we need to switch our schedules and have our coaches come out on the weekends. 'Sorry, you can make it work.' Basically, that's what I got.

I have four teams and two fields. We can't make it work. (Two minute bong) I wish we could.

I don't think that we should be limiting recreational programs. I think that we should be expanding them. We have damages to our concession stands and bathrooms weekly, because of kids that are just hanging out and not doing anything productive.

Last Tuesday, I heard that Lake City Babe Ruth Boys Baseball Association has the practice lights. My question to you as the Board, since Clint Pittman said you make the decisions on this, why are certain associations being allotted the lights and not others?

Communication Breakdown At the Highest Levels

Commissioner Rusty DePratter said, "I didn't know anything about it. If you had given me a call I probably could have fixed it."

Ms Wheat explained that she reached out to the Parks and Recreation Department, as well as District 2 commissioner elect Rocky Ford. She told Mr. DePratter, "I wish I would have known that."

It does not appear that there is any system that keeps the County 5 apprised of what is going on in the County.

Commissioner DePratter asked County Manager Scott, "Ben, did you get all that?"

Emails show the lighting issues came to light early in September

County Manager Ben Scott (file photo)

Mr. Scott answered Commissioner DePratter, "Commissioner, yes. But we – I - started hearing about this last week. I asked Clint to develop some possible guidelines and rules, because he's been over it for years. I do not believe one park was turned on and not another. It is difficult on staff to determine when we turn the lights on and when we don't."

"I would suggest that we bring back a policy for how we run these lights. Clint gave me a note today. When we talked about it the last couple of days it was like, 'Well, it's always been daylight savings time. Now, when we say always, there's been exceptions.'"

"It's been an unspoken rule over the years - ya know - we don't turn lights on until daylight savings time because it does get darker a lot quicker at that point. The days are shorter now, so it is getting darker a little sooner now."

Com. DePratter wanted the lights turned on "now."

Mr. DePratter interjected, "It's getting darker a lot quicker."

Mr. Scott said that Recreation's Pitman recommended October 1 as the date that lights could be turned on and added, "But they have to be scheduled through us..." "I suggest that staff bring back the recommendation and you all go through it."

Mr. DePratter Was Not Waiting
Neither was Rocky Ford

Commissioner DePratter:  "First of all, I make a motion that we get the lights on now."

Commissioner Elect Rocky Ford in the front row is taking being a county commissioner seriously.

District 2 Commissioner elect Rocky Ford, who will be replacing Mr. DePratter on November 15, from the front row of the audience added, "I do the same."

Ms. Wheat added, "And to discredit what you've said, I have emails showing that last year we had lights starting September 28th."

Commissioner Nash joined the conversation inquiring about the best time to begin lighting the fields. It was agreed that September 15 would be that time.

Mr. DePratter clarified his motion to turn on the lights, post haste, "We're gonna' start turning the lights on as of tomorrow for them to practice - whatever schedule they have," adding, "If you don't see this happening, give Ben a call."

The motion passed unanimously.

Katie's girls will have lights.


In total, it took Ms. Wheat 5 minutes to present her issues and have The 5 take action. Keeping her off the agenda and relegating her to the back end of the meeting insured that those who left early would not hear her presentation and discourages citizens from engaging their representatives.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

County Chairman Tim Murphy wrapped up with Ms. Wheat, telling her, "We appreciate what you do."

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