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Lake City/Columbia County News

Lake City's Sunshine Girl, Audrey Sikes: Will she let the sun shine in?

LAKE CITY, FL – Beginning in February, County Manager Dale Williams in concert with County Commissioner Ronald Williams have been authorizing engineering studies and wheeling and dealing to lineup funds for a multimillion dollar road improvement project in Lake City, which will benefit the privately run HMA Hospital leased from the LSHA. The project will be financed by the residents of Columbia County. LSHA's Jackson P "Jack" Berry has also been involved. City Manager Wendell Johnson's involvement is not clearly understood.

Update: At 9:55 am, City Clerk Audrey Sikes postponed the City/County/LSHA meeting until further notice. At 3:21 pm it is still postponed.

Scheduled for this afternoon is a meeting to discuss route and financing options for this project. Scheduled to attend the meeting are County Commissioner Ronald Williams and County Manager Dale Williams; City Manager Wendell Johnson and City Councilwoman Melinda Moses; and the LSHA's Jack Berry.

"This is the way the City operates."

Late last week, a high-ranking City official told the Observer that the meeting would have to be held in the Sunshine, saying, "This is the way the City operates."

City Manager Wendell Johnson, apparently not agreeing with this, dumped the issue in the lap of Lake City's Sunshine Girl, City Clerk Audrey Sikes.

The First Amendment Foundation weighs in

On Friday, May 11th, Ms. Sykes asked for an opinion from Florida's First Amendment Foundation (FAF) regarding the necessity of having this multijurisdictional meeting in the Sunshine. Ms. Sikes wrote to Gen. Council Jon Kaney, in relevant part, the following:

 Our City, County and local Hospital Authority would like to partnership for the construction of a new road access to the hospital. Our City Manager, County Manager, Hospital Authority Manager, City Council Member (elected), and County Commissioner (elected) would like to have a meeting to discuss each entities participation.  These participants are not members of the “same board” however do represent three different government agencies.
There is some confusion as to whether or not the meeting to discuss the access road to the hospital would constitute as a Sunshine applicable meeting, since in essence we have one City elected official and one County elected official.  As a result of this meeting I would assume that the elected officials would report back to the respective governing bodies (City and County) for any recommendations and/or official action if necessary.

General Council Jon Kaney responded, in relevant part, at 3:06 pm on May 11th:

Whether the Sunshine Law applies to this group would seem to depend on the function of the group. In Wood v. Marston, 442 So.2d 934 (Fla. 1983), the  Supreme Court stated that it is the nature of the act performed and not the makeup of a committee that determines whether the Sunshine Law applies.  If the group develops a recommendation to bring to the elected boards, it should be deemed subject to the Sunshine Law. AGO 94-21 deals with a similar set of facts and advises that a negotiating team that included elected and staff members was subject to the Sunshine Law because it had the authority to narrow the alternatives available to the Board. (Emphasis added)

On May 11th at 3:15 pm, Ms. Sikes forwarded Mr. Kaney's e mail to City Manager Johnson.

City Manager Johnson weighs in

CM Johnson responded at 3:22 pm:

Your call on the meeting which I believe will be Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. in the City Hall Conference Room. Personally, I don’t see a need for noticing as I am sure it will go much smoother without Lilker who would be the only one to come. (Emphasis added)

"Lilker" is your reporter. It is not clear when Ms. Sykes saw the City Manager's e-mail.

At 6:24 pm, Ms. Sikes e mailed the FAF's Kaney:

I would say that one member would say gather information whereas another would say for they will make a recommendation.  With that being said, I am always of the opinion it is better to err on the side of caution and notice the meeting. 

A few minutes later, Mr. Kaney e mailed back one word, "Absolutely!"

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority weighs in

On Monday evening, May 14th, during a LSHA meeting, LSHA Board Chairman Koby Adams, during a conversation about the road project asked Mr. Berry if the Authority would have any input on the route.

After some conversation, LSHA Board member Bruce Naylor characterized the position of the Hospital Authority this way: What Jack's trying to do is he's got the County in and he wants to be in the deal, so we can look at the City and say -- okay -- two of us are in the deal -- you guys in or not -- to get this thing moving.

Mr. Berry answered, "You have all kinds of input on it. That's another thing I want the board to decide -- which of these access is -- that the board prefers -- and that'll be the one that I'll be negotiatin from."

After a discussion about the routes and financing, Mr. Berry continued, "It's what I want -- the preference of the board, because we do have a meetin comin up and I'd like ta at least to be able to present your ideas."

After the Hospital Authority meeting, your reporter spoke with City Manager Wendell Johnson. CM Johnson told the Observer that he was leaving the decision of whether or not the City - County - LSHA meeting was to be a meeting in the Sunshine, up to the City Clerk.

City Manager Johnson did not reveal that the Clerk had decided the meeting was not to be noticed or that the meeting was scheduled. He only mentioned that the Clerk had requested an opinion from the FAF.

The E mails

Yesterday morning the Observer requested the email chain of events regarding this meeting from the City Clerk. A few hours later the e-mails arrived. If you have gotten this far, you know what they said.

The Observer makes a request

Late yesterday afternoon the Observer, in an e mail to City Clerk Audrey Sikes requested the following:

.... Mr. Berry clearly states the purpose of the meeting and clearly indicates that this is not just mere fact finding, I am respectfully requesting that you reconsider your decision not to notice this meeting; that you cancel the meeting to a time certain in the future, after it has been properly noticed, as is clearly required by the law, by the facts and by the circumstances.

Additionally, should you still have questions and find it necessary, I am respectfully requesting... you resubmit your question to the First Amendment Foundation.


Will Lake City's Sunshine Girl, Audrey Sikes let the sun shine in?

Stay tuned. 

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