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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

LSHA Berry's Lobbying Pays Off
City Gives Hosp Auth and HMA free ride

LAKE CITY, FL - Last night the Lake City Council, with City Manager Wendell Johnson leading the way, put the residents of Lake City on the hook for $148,000 plus interest, as former Republican Chieftain and Hospital Authority Manager "Jack" Jackson P. Berry's ex parte lobbying paid off in a free ride for HMA and the LSHA, who have gotten away without any contribution to a road improvement project designed to benefit them. Only City Councilman Jake Hill voted for the residents when he voted against the project. (Observer file photo: City Councilman Jake Hill)

On May 2, 2011, the City Council appropriated $21,800 from the CRA funds to pay GTC Design Group for design and engineering services for the Franklin Street Project.

Links:
City Manager Johnson's report to the Council is here.
Related article:
 • Yesterday's article
More about the LSHA
 • The LSHA

The cost to redo Franklin Street, which benefits Hospital Management Associates (HMA), a private for profit corporation that leases the hospital from the Lakeshore Hospital Authority, is $148,000 plus interest.

City Manager Johnson told the City Council, "This is a good project."

He explained that the project will provide enhanced road access to the hospital and it is designed to enhance ambulance service.

City Manager Johnson said, "My opposition to the project was the funding source."

In August, last month, CM Johnson said, "I am not comfortable with the funding perception that the Hospital Authority, particularly their executive director has that the City should fund all of it."

Last month, City Manager Johnson also mentioned that while Mr. Berry had met with all the City Council members, he had not come to speak with him. CM Johnson said that when he has the design and cost projections in hand his position would be that the Council needs to explain their communications that they had shared with Mr. Berry about the project.

Last night neither City Manager Johnson, nor any of the four council members that voted to fund the project without any financial contribution from the Hospital Authority mentioned one word about the prior communications they had with Authority Manager Berry.

One council member spoke for the people

Only one City Council member spoke up for the people of Lake City. City Councilman Jake Hill told CM Johnson that earlier when the project was discussed, he (Mr. Johnson) was in favor of splitting the cost of the project 50-50 with the hospital authority.

CM Johnson told Mr. Hill, "That's true." CM Johnson explained that the 50-50 split only concerned the use of CRA funds. "I would still feel that way if we were going to use CRA money," said CM Johnson.

City Manager Johnson did not attempt to explain why it was okay for the residents of Lake City to foot the entire bill when CRA funding was not involved, other than to say, "With the fact that we do have the sales tax money I don't see that that's significant."

Councilman Hill told the City Manager and the Council, "I still feel like the Hospital Authority should contribute something to this project. I don't feel like it's fair to the taxpayers to have to pay for this whole deal."

City Manager Johnson told Mr. Hill, "This road is just going to benefit the hospital... I'm looking to the benefit of the community and nothing more. If the council approves this tonight the taxpayers should be pleased with it. It's a good use of their money."

Epilogue

Last night, following City Manager Johnson's lead, all the City Council members, save one, voted to give the Lake Shore Hospital Authority and HMA a free pass and saddle Lake City's taxpayers with a $148,000 debt plus interest.

City Councilman Jake Hill, the only nay vote, had the last word. After the meeting he told the Observer, "It was obvious that this was a done deal before anyone walked into the Council Chambers. It would have been nice if Mr. Berry or someone from the Hospital Authority would have shown up to answer any questions and then thank the City for footing the entire bill."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On September 7, 2011, A Life in Lake City wrote:

Congrats to Jake Hill for being the lone vote and willing not to follow the other council members.

If the road were a state road and the entity in question were new they would need to put some upfront money for improvements. I pay county and city taxes and I am irritated.. Why should a private for profit hospital not have to make some financial contribution into a road improvement project from which they benefit? The hospital already has 2 or 3 million given to them by the LSHA and the hospital is a for profit operation. The Berry or someone from the Hospital could have shown up at last night's meeting to show support.

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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