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Columbia Cnty's Mainstream Media & the Blanche: Twisted Facts, False Praise (Part II)


According to material received at 6 pm tonight, IDP claims the project will now cost 15 Mil, ultimately to build a new city hall that no one thinks the City needs and some shops; saddling the City's taxpayers with a rent bill that will cost over $400,000 a year, after a $1 Mil cash grant.

LAKE CITY, FL – On Sunday, August 27, 2017, Lake City's mainstream media and daily newspaper of record, the Lake City Reporter (LCR) published, what it called, a "Special Report." It followed up on its Special Report with an opinion piece and an article "Blanche docs to be released." Both the opinion and the article were off the mark.

Links to Blanche stories are here.

Background

On September 21, 2015, the City Council passed a resolution authorizing the City to enter into a "Development Agreement and Commercial Lease Agreement" with Integrity Development Partners (IDP) and another LLC.

The City Manager and City Attorney had the sole power to change the agreements. When they were done, the Mayor had the Authority and responsibility to sign off on the final agreements.


The Resolution

The resolution states in relevant part: "Execution by the Mayor, Owner and Developer shall be deemed to be conclusive evidence of approval of such changes, amendments, modifications, omissions, and additions agreed to be [sic] all parties."

On July 30, 2017, the LCR's cub reporter, Taylor Gaines wrote an article entitled, "Blanche deal signing is set. Final contract will be inked by the end of August, says city."

Mr. Gaines wrote, "The city council will have to approve the agreement one more time before moving forward with the project."

Mr. Gaines, quoting Mr. Johnson, wrote, "It's appropriate that it go back before them before moving forward with the project."

What Mr. Johnson didn't say, or the newspaper didn't report, was that the agreements were modified to the extent that they bore almost no resemblance to those approved two years before.

The City/IDP Agreements through June 2016

Blanche: Lease Agreement & Purchase Option
Blanche: Development Agreement

After the August 8, 2017 Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (CRAC) meeting, Mr. Johnson told the Observer that the agreement didn't have to become public until after "it was signed by all parties."

Your reporter asked if he thought that it was fair that the public would never get to see what they were responsible for paying off, before it was approved by the City Council.

Mr. Johnson said he understood the issue and would "think about it."

City Manager Johnson said, "The agreement doesn’t have to become public..." and that your reporter should check with the City Attorney for clarification.

The Observer checked with Mr. Koberlein. City Attorney Koberlein has not responded.

LCR's August 31 Editorial and Article:
Twisted Facts, False Praise

Hyping its Blanche Special Report, which included the phony headline reported in Part I, the LCR wrote that the City Manager had decided to release the Blanche agreements along with its agenda later today.

The City Manager could have released them anytime and did not have to wait.

The LCR reported that the agreements have "been confidential to this point because of Florida Statute 288.075..."

The LCR failed to report or did not check the statute, which states in relevant part that the information can remain confidential for "12 months after the date an economic development agency receives a request for confidentiality or until the information is otherwise disclosed, whichever occurs first." (emphasis added by the Observer)

Integrity Development Partners request for confidentilaity.

The statute goes on to state that the confidentiality can be extended "for up to an additional 12 months upon written request from the private corporation, partnership, or person who originally requested confidentiality under this section and ... Such a request for an extension in the period of confidentiality must be received prior to the expiration of any confidentiality originally provided..." (emphasis added by the Observer).

The record should have been readily available from the City Manager, who has been the point person with IDP since 2008.

Additionally, then City Attorney Herbert Darby wrote in July, 2015 that Blanche records were exempt ... "for that time provided for in Section 285.075(2)(a)(2)" of the FL statutes."

The IDP letter requesting confidentiality was addressed to City Manager Johnson.

Your reporter has requested the extension letter(s) from City Manager Johnson.

Late today, after a series of phone calls to the City, and after being blown off by City Manager Johnson and City Attorney Koberlein, Audrey Skies, the Record Access Office and City Clerk, advised that the City, i.e. Fred Koberlein, "is working on it."

Ms. Sikes wrote, "As soon as I receive the records and/or a response I will let you know."

Failing any confidentiality extension letters, which appears to be the case, IDP and the City's claims of confidentiality expired over a month ago.

The Lake City Reporter
Currying favor w/politicians or just not doing its homework?

On August 31, the LCR wrote:

"When the city council approved the pre­liminary agreement with developer IDP back in September 2015, no more council action was required. All City Manager Wendell Johnson would have to do is sign the final papers, once they were ready, and start packing up City Hall when construction was through.

To Johnson’s credit, he chose to send the matter back to the council for final approv­al regardless. That’s what is happening."


Read the LCR opinion here

Not really.

According to the September 2015 resolution, Mayor Witt was the only member of the Council that had the authority to sign or not sign off on the agreements.

The agreements bore only a casual, if any, resemblance to the original agreements. There was also an additional agreement added into the mix, a Tenant Improvement Plan, which according to Mr. Johnson, was a new addition.

Once Mayor Witt, a practicing attorney, saw the massive changes, it is unlikely that he would have signed off on them without Council approval, as the intent of the initial resolution was clearly not to have Wendell Johnson and the new City Attorney, Fred Koberlein, rewrite the agreements.

Epilogue

On Tuesday evening, beginning at 5 pm, Mayor Witt will be at the helm in City Hall.

Unlike at the County, Mayor Witt and the City Council respect your right to be heard without rudeness and bongs going off.

If you don't show up and speak up, it is on you.

At least the newspaper got that part right.

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