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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City Once-A-Decade Charter Review
After much intelligent conversation – 1977 lives on

The Lake City Charter Review Board
The final decision making, public participation meeting of the 2010 Lake City Charter Review Board. Left to right: City Manager Wendell Johnson, "OJ" Lake, (out of view Victoria Ellis), Clerk Audrey Sikes, Chairperson Ann Skinner, Mario Coppock, Dwight Kamback, Attorney Herbert Darby.

Closing the Board to all further comments and suggestions, Lake City's once a decade charter review process came to an end on Monday night, ending as it began with intelligent conversation and except for two minor changes, clung to long time City Attorney Darby's opinion to the Board at the first meeting: The charter has worked well since 1977. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Chairperson Ann SkinnerFollowing in the tradition of Lake City's popular Mayor, Steve Witt, the star of the review process was Chairperson Ann Skinner, who took the Mayor's gavel and kept Lake City's policy of timely public comment and the free exchange of ideas alive. Unfortunately, over the ninety day tenure of the Board, only a handful showed up from the public to observe or participate.

Although all county officials were invited, long time County Commissioner Ronald Williams was the only official from the County side of the street to show up and appear before city's Charter Review Board ("CRB").

City Attorney Herbert Darby
Long time City Attorney, Herbert Darby, served the CRB by giving his opinions and legal opinions

Two minor changes were approved by the CRB to go before the public.

The first, suggested by Board member, Mario Coppock was to include in the charter, as a minimum requirement for the City Manager – a four year college degree.

City Manager Wendell Johnson agreed that a four year degree should be the minimum requirement and that the degree should be in public administration or finance.

Former City Councilman Glynnell BowdenChairwoman Skinner agreed and added that she thought that the experience requirement should be defined.

Former City Councilman, Glynnell Bowden told the CRB that he thought the requirement should be added to the charter that "The person must have at least a four year degree and or ten years experience."

Mayor Steve Witt, patiently waited his turn and told the board that he thought a 4 year degree was reasonable and some experience Lake City Mayor Steve Wittwas reasonable, however, he disagreed with CM Johnson that the degree must be in business or public administration.

Mayor Witt said, "I would like it to say city manager experience or equivalent. If they were head of General Motors and then were the city manager for five years that the other experience might count."

CRB member "OJ" Lake did not think that the city manager should have to have a college degree and that experience should be sufficient." He voted not to put the question to the public.

CRB member "OJ" Lake
CRB member "OJ" Lake

Later on the CRB agreed to the language change and during the review Clerk Sikes read from her notes:
  ... if approved will now include the words relating to the education and experience of the manager:  The minimum requirements shall be a bachelors degree from an accredited four year college or university and ten years progressively responsible experience in municipal or corporate management -- excuse me -- including experience in a senior management position or any equivalent combination of training and experience.

It is not clear exactly where the experience fits in. Clerk Sikes did not respond to a request for the exact wording by press time.

The second question, which was originally presented early in the process to the CRB by Councilman Ward, concerned the date that a city councilman would take office after an election.

After an incredible amount of discussion, it was agreed that the question presented will be: Oath of office -- Oath scheduled at the first regularly scheduled council meeting following the November general election.

Two significant items were presented and failed.

City Manager Johnson requested that a question be presented to the public that should the city council agree to eliminate the fire or police departments, that the final say be by a public referendum.

Your reporter spoke in favor and former City Councilman Bowden spoke against.

The item failed for lack of a motion.

Enhanced Public Notice

Lake City Manager Wendell JohnsonCity Manager Johnson didn't understand the concept or the purpose of the proposed Enhanced Public Notice amendment.

Your reporter suggest a charter amendment, Enhanced Public Notice, that he previously presented to the County Charter Review Board.

This amendment was ultimately approved by both the  Board and the  public with the largest majority of any amendment ever voted upon in Columbia County.

Of the 15 member County Charter Review Board, only one member voted against it, current LSHA member Koby Adams. LSHA Chairman Vann voted in favor.

The voters of Columbia County, which includes Lake City, approved the amendment to the county charter with an 82% plus majority.

The similar amendment was presented to the Lake City CRB as the first step in letting the people of Lake City decide if they would like their agendas and backup material made readily available on the Lake City website:

Enhanced Public Notice -- The City Council and other City Boards and Committees will publish their agendas and backup information on the City website -- yes or no.

CM Johnson didn't understand the concept or the amendment and spoke vehemently against it and Board Attorney Darby also spoke against the amendment, calling it bad government.

CRB member Mario Coppock, who was also a member of the County Charter Review, moved the item. It died for lack of a second.

The Board closed all further comments and suggestions and will meet Monday night for the ministerial deed of approving a letter to the City Council with its two recommended changes.

Further changes to the city charter will not be considered until 2020.

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