City Approves $1,635,307 Park Renovation – City Manager & Council Leave Public Out of Process
Project estimate over-budget by $600,000
Posted January 20, 2016 12:15 pm
LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall, Wendell Johnson's Wilson Park/Darby Pavilion plan came to fruition as the Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA) gave its stamp of approval on a $1,635,307 cost estimate by one of the City's contract engineers, Tetra Tech. There remain two pieces of property in the Project area that have not been purchased, both of which impact the proposed renovation plan.
On April 4, 2015, the City borrowed $1,311,250 for what was known as the "Project." According to the documents approved by the City Council the Project means: the costs to finance, refinance and/or reimburse the acquisition, construction and equipping of certain capital improvements consistent with and in furtherance of the Issuer's Redevelopment Plan.
Specifically, the Project was defined as:
(i) The redevelopment
of the Lake Desoto waterfront and expansion
of the Wilson Park recreation area, which
will include pavilion upgrades, constructing
an underground stormwater retention system,
constructing and equipping a playground,
constructing a band shell, constructing
parking improvements, constructing a walking
trail, constructing a seawall and
constructing a natural gas fire light system
(ii) community policing innovations within the crime prone industrial and residential segment of the Redevelopment Area, which innovations may include but are not limited to renovating, improving and equipping a neighborhood storefront police substation and thereby establishing a police presence featuring citizen patrols, foot patrols, field interrogation, intensified motorized patrols and/or on-site evidence processing and storage.
The Lake DeSoto/Wilson Park expansion was anticipated to cost about $1,000,000, with the rest going to community policing.
Lately, there has been no talk about the policing innovations as the price of the park renovations has ballooned 50%.
City Councilwoman Moses
She did not reach out to the community
While City Councilwoman Moses always graciously accepts comments from anyone wishing to contribute, she appears to have made no effort to have City Manager Johnson reach out to the community for input into the downtown renovations.
On December 8, during the Community Redevelopment Advisory Board meeting City Manager Johnson addressed the issue of public participation: "This meeting is publicized. My suggestion is if anybody's got any interest they should be here."
The notice was a small block ad in the local newspaper. There was no outstanding mention of the importance of the Project or the need for the public to be involved.
January 12, 2016
The CRAC meets: project over budget
The Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (CRAC) met on January 12, 2016.
City Manager Johnson introduced another "revised" plan to the CRAC. He told the committee, "All the changes requested by the committee have been incorporated. The cost projections that Mr. Reardon [Tetra Tech] has projected have jumped up to 1.6 million. Those are cost projections only. They have told me they went to very extreme estimates to be on the safe side.... I will tell you that the city does not have that amount of funds to do what it says here."
Lake Shore Hospital Authority Manager, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry said he would be attending the CRAC meeting. The Lake Shore Hospital Authority is in or very close to the Project area. The Atta Property, a piece of property that was bought from the Authority for medical office space and has not been developed, has been an area of concern for the City Manager. He wants the City to buy it; the property doesn't belong to Dr. Atta; the property owner is registered in Las Vegas. The Governor's Hospital Authority Board approved that deal.
Your reporter asked City Manager Johnson, "What's with the Atta property? Did the City get a hold of that? I know Jack (Berry) was supposed to be here tonight?"
The City Manager replied, "Well, Jack ain't here tonight. So, if you want to know about the Atta property, you might want to talk to him. I have reached out to Dr. Atta."
Mr. Johnson then lashed out at Barbara Lemley who was sitting quietly and listening in the audience of two.
Your reporter followed up, "I was just wondering about the status."
Mr. Johnson replied, "There is no status, he still owns it."
A few moments later, the CRAC approved the plan. The public had been completely left out of the loop.
Councilwoman Moses commented, "We have us a plan."
Last Night: The Project's Expanded Budget Approved
Tetra Tech's final cost estimate. Click to enlarge
The CRA met last night. City Manager Johnson explained, "The document in your packet from Tetra Tech showing $1,635,000 is the engineer/architects estimate. A lot of this work shown in this description -- task items here -- some of that stuff has already been done."
Mr. Johnson did not explain why the engineer/architects appeared not to know this or if this was a scheme to pad the ballooning Project budget.
Mr. Johnson explained the proposed buyout of the Houston Property: "They're not willin' to negotiate reasonable terms for sale of the property."
The Atta property
The Atta property, which is a key piece in the City's Project plan, is still in limbo. Mr. Johnson told the CRA, "We got an appraisal out on Dr. Atta's property. Once we get that in here in couple -- three weeks -- then we will contact him and I will sit down with Mr. Darby and Dr. Atta and we will come to -- hopefully -- acceptable terms to acquire that parcel. That piece of land is really important to this project."
As reported earlier, Dr. Atta doesn't own the property.
Resident Sandra Smith, the only resident to appear at the CRAC meetings to comment on the Project was concerned about the trees in the Project area. She had previously e-mailed the City and got returned messages that said her e-mails were blocked. According to Ms. Smith, the City denied that it had blocked her e-mails.
Ms. Smith was concerned about the proposed concrete walkways killing the trees.
City Manager Johnson responded (as spoken), "Didn't I tell you at the meeting that there was no plans to remove any trees over there other than the ones that's diseased. They've already been cleared -- pruned -- those kinds of things. I don't think that there is going to be any kind of the zone and infringement that is going to kill the tree. We have an architect that is certified to understand horticulture."
Ms. Smith said she was concerned about the drip zones.
Mr. Johnson shot back, "I didn't know you was an expert on drip zones."
The CRA approved the over-budget plan.
After the meeting, City Manager Johnson called out Ralph Kitchens for recording the meeting, claiming that Mr. Kitchens was recording it for the Observer, which he was.
A witness to the conversation, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told the Observer, "After the meeting Mr. Johnson called Mr. Kitchens over to him. Mr. Johnson's microphone was on. He was particularly nasty to Mr. Kitchens. I couldn't understand why."