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Columbia County Observer

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LSHA

A New Downtown Lake City City Hall: 3 LSHA Gov Appointees Will be the Deciders on LC's Future

City Manager Joe Helfenberger hold a  poster board.

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, Lake City's City Manager Joe Helfenberger made his pitch for four parcels of property bought by the Authority during a crazed buying spree begun in 2006. The City is looking to build a new City municipal complex in downtown Lake City.

Background: the property

Marlin Feagle
Former LSHA Attorney Marlin Feagle is handling the property swap for the Authority.

In 2006, Lake City/Columbia County/North Florida legend Jack Berry was the Lake Shore Hospital Authority's board member leading the charge to buy up every piece of property in the area of the Lake Shore Hospital, eventually spending about $4,000,000 of Hospital Authority money, in cash. By 2013, the property in downtown Lake City, in what Manager Berry referred to as the "ghetto," was worth maybe 20% of that, if you could have found someone to buy it.

An inspection of the minutes of that era shows that the property was purchased in contravention to the legislative purpose of the Authority.

See: Lake Shore Hosp Auth: $4,000,000 spent in real-estate spending spree - still no plan

Currently, Lake City's City Hall is falling down and needs to be replaced.

 City Manager Helfenberger is looking to relocate a new City Hall on Authority property purchased by all Columbia County's taxpayers. He is looking to build the City Hall and improve downtown parking on four parcels which the Authority owns and for which it has never had a plan. He wants the Authority to transfer the property to the City.

Last Night: Lake Shore Hospital Authority

City Manager Helfenberger had previously met with Authority Manager Dale Williams (the former 3 decades plus Columbia County Manager) and Authority members, a fact which no one acknowledged.

Mr. Helfenberger came prepared with basic site plans which showed that the new complex would be located in the downtown revitalization area; improve the downtown parking; keep the City/County municipal services, including court functions centrally located in walking distance from each other; and have room for new and needed County services.

Lake Shore Hospital Authority Position

Lory Chancy
Board member Lory Chancy listens to the conversation. She could not find any takers for her plan of a City Hall in the Boondocks.

The members of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board are political appointments by the Governor. They need to be republicans and do not need any particular qualification other than one member who needs to be a Columbia County resident and a doctor.

Lory Chancy, around since the days of Jack Berry, was appointed in 2009, and is the longest sitting member of the Governor's Board.

Her husband is or was the Republican leader. She is a nurse, very nice, has the political spending philosophy of a liberal democrat or worse and seems to know nothing about urban planning.

Last night, she came out against the City Managers plan of keeping all the County/City/Court services centrally located and suggested locating the new city hall in the boondocks.

She also wants the City to build new roads to the hospital.

LSHA Board Chair Brandon BeilBoard Chairman Brandon Beil was appointed in 2015. He is a corporate executive, well liked, intelligent and actively encourages board members to speak their minds, which appears to be in contravention to some of the advice which they are getting.

Chairman Beil seems to be in favor of the plan.

Jay SwisherJay Swisher was appointed in January 2018. He is noted for his million dollar smile, winning personality, and a political pedigree that can't be beat. He is a former Sheriff's Deputy, presently a director at Florida Gateway College, and a candidate to replace the retiring DeWitt Cason to be Clerk of the Court. He has no urban planning experience.

Mr. Swisher seems to be in favor of the City Manager's proposal. However, he wants to negotiate the closing of Circle Drive and tie this into the land deal. Making Circle Drive or Lake Side Drive (the road around Lake DeSoto) a limited access road may satisfy Mr. Swisher.

Stephen DouglasStephen Douglas, appointed in June 2018, is the latest appointment to the Governor's board. He is a certified contractor and property appraiser. He is a good republican, politically connected, well liked, intelligent, understands urban planning, and the board's 'go-to-guy' in construction matters and matters like the one now before the board.

He seems to be in favor of the City Manager's plan, but also has problems with closing the road around the lake.

The Elephant in the Room
The $80,000 a year part time Authority Manager Dale Williams

The legendary Dale Williams has been working behind the scenes, wheeling and dealing in Columbia County for going on four decades. He is really, really smart, but one always has to be on watch for a hidden agenda: people are.

Dale Williams
Dale Williams asks the City Manager about leasing the property.

In a bizarre 12th hour move, out of the blue, Manager Williams mentioned the City leasing a couple of the parcels. He gave no reason; the idea did not appear to have been vetted by the Board members, although it may have been done in the back room; and the Authority has no written plan for those parcels. It seemed to be a sudden and gentle strong arm tactic. The Board members sat mute.

Glenel Bowden
Former City Council member Glenel Bowden came to his first LSHA meeting and spoke in support of Mr. Helfenberger's plan.

Manager Williams will be working with City Manager Helfenberger to come up with a plan to be presented to the Authority Board for its December meeting. 

Mr. Helfenberger explained that the City has to move quickly and said that in high wind conditions he has had to evacuate the City Hall three times.

Mr. Helfenberger is putting the project on the City agenda for November 18. At that time the City Council will discuss the road.

Epilogue

The next generation of Columbia County's leaders, the 'young Turks': Beil, Swisher, Douglas, will be the deciders of the look of the downtown of Lake City for the next 100 years.

The Columbia County 5 has been invited to the table to join in and share in planning a municipal complex for all of Columbia County.

So far, the only things in which it seems to be interested are tin buildings and spending $40,000,000 on the Hunter-Hilton, a proposed new jail to house 85 high security prisoners along with folks in jail for minor infractions.

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