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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City/Columbia County News

Florida In The Sunshine Takes A Beating In Lake City. City Manager Johnson holds staff meeting?

LAKE CITY, FL – On Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at 4 PM, Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson had a decision to make -- he could respect Florida's Sunshine laws, the courts, and the wishes of City Councilwoman, Melinda Moses, which were memorialized at 3:44 PM by City Clerk Audrey Sikes, who said in an e-mail, "Per correspondence from Ms. Moses the meeting at 4 pm today has been cancelled. The meeting will be rescheduled and noticed at a later date. Thank you. Audrey" – or -- he could hold the meeting anyway.

The tale of the tape: Read the complete e mail chain here, from the bottom up. The County did not respond and the LSHA has missing e mails.

When both LSHA Manager, Jack Berry (representing the Governor's LSHA board), and County Manager Dale Williams (representing the County Commission) showed up for the cancelled meeting in City Hall. City Manager Wendell Johnson chose to have the meeting, anyway.

City Manager Johnson holds a staff meeting?

On Monday night, May 21, 2012, City Manager Wendell Johnson explained to the City Council that he sent out a memo regarding the staff meeting between himself, Lakeshore Hospital Authority Manager, Jack Berry and Columbia County, County Manager Dale Williams. The memo was about the meeting he held at the same time and in the same place of the previously, postponed and then cancelled meeting of May 16th. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the millions of dollars of road way renovations, financed by the taxpayers, which are proposed to happen in downtown Lake City and will be a great benefit to HMA, the private and publically traded company that leases the hospital owned by the LSHA.

On May 14th, LSHA's Berry, explained to his Board that he was going to the meeting to negotiate the route to the hospital and other things.

The Courts and the AG

In News-Press Publishing Company, Inc. v. Carlson, the Court stated:

When public officials delegate de facto authority to act on their behalf in the formulation, preparation, and promulgation of plans on which foreseeable action will be taken by those public officials, those delegated that authority stand in the shoes of such public officials insofar as the application of the Government in the Sunshine Law is concerned.

While there is a limited exception to the accountability of the sunshine law to advisory committees established for fact-finding only, it is clear from the previously spoken words of both Mr. Berry and CM Johnson that this meeting was not merely a fact-finding meeting.

In 1994, Florida Atty. Gen. Robert A. Butterworth opined about negotiating team. In relevant part he said, "The negotiation team plays an integral part in the development of an agreement and, therefore, is subject to the requirements of the Sunshine Law.

Epilogue

In the land of the infamous good ole boys of Lake City/Columbia County, the inside wheeling and dealing goes back decades and even into the last century, when the University of Florida packed its bags and moved to Gainesville.

The Wal-Mart distribution center debacle is not all that old. The results of Columbia County's good ole boy bs is still being felt today. A glance at the north side of I-10 in Macclenny will reveal the hundreds of jobs and economic development potential that were lost forever to Columbia County. Those in the economic development community will tell you – that is a gift that keeps on giving.

When Lake City/Columbia County step up to the plate and realize that in today's civilized world brain power and the rule of law trumps good ole boy power every time, the gateway to Florida will begin to out run its well earned reputation.

Until that time Columbia County's fate is sealed in its past, with City Manager Wendell Johnson and his newly found staff members. 

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