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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Councilman Hill Stands Tough Against the Tide
City Manager Johnson Heaped With Praise

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall, City Councilman Jake Hill's continued efforts to oust City Manager Wendell Johnson found no support from the rest of the City Council. City workers with gripes, who wanted to remain employed, stayed away, as others lined up behind Assistant City Manager Grayson Cason in a well scripted show of support for the nine year City Manager who has had a sometimes turbulent career in Lake City and who has recently taken hits in the press and with the public.

Shortly after the Council meeting got underway, Mayor Witt told the crowd, "We have quite a few people signed up. Is there anybody that is not signed up who wants to speak to Council?"

Mayor Witt asked everyone to speak as briefly as possible, to be respectful and address the Council.

One by One the Speakers Came to the Microphone

Local business woman Beverly Reed directed her questions and remarks to Councilman Hill, "I just have a very simple question to ask. This is not my comfort zone. My question is directed to Councilman Hill... I am sure I will get an answer that will appease my heart. Are you the one that brought the vote of confidence of the City Manager before the City Council?"


Beverly Reed homed in on Councilman Hill

Councilman Hill responded, "Yes."

Ms. Reed continued, "I'm sure you have a detailed list of things that the City Manager has done: dates, times, events to warrant such a vote that would prove that he's abused the City Manager position. Councilman, if you have that, I'm through."

Mr. Hill responded, "Well, I don't have it, but I do have the people that put me in this position, among other people. I've got City employees, who right now are scared because of that man right there. [City Manager Johnson]

Ms. Reed followed up, "There is nothing but talk and it concerns me."

Mr. Hill:  "That's your opinion and I have my opinion."

Ms. Reed:  "It concerns me that nothing is in writing... When you were Councilman before, I think this has happened before... Tell me you are not using your position to create a hostile working environment. That's what concerns me."

Mr. Hill responded, "I'm not using my position to harass this man. I am his boss. I'm dissatisfied with his performance. I have the right to do what I am doing. That man right there is unfit to be the City Manager of Lake City. That's my opinion."

Ms. Reed, still wanting specifics, followed up, "Then tell me why."

Mr. Hill replied, "Because of things he has done in the past. I have asked him to do jobs -- do things in my district -- it was a problem. It didn't get done. Anybody else that sits on this board asks him to do something -- it gets done."

Ms. Reed continued asking for something in writing. She claimed Hill was harassing Johnson. She said, "You know, a boss can harass somebody."

Mr. Hill responded, "You know, you're right. That man there has harassed several City employees that walk around scared of losing their jobs. And the sad part about it is, this Council, believes whatever he tells them. That's what they do. They don't do any research on him -- none. Whatever he tells them. That's it."

Ms Reed said, "There is no proof. That is what worries me... but you've answered my question."

Mr. Hill remarked, "I hope there is no hard feelings."

Ms. Reed concluded, "No, there's not."

16 Year Veteran of the City Council Concerned About Trust

Next up to the microphone was former 16 year veteran of the City Council, Glenel Bowden


Glenel Bowden, "People have dissatisfaction."

Mr. Bowden:  "I came to talk about what I view as the lack of confidence and trust that I see taking place for our form of government. I walk around the neighborhood and people have dissatisfaction... I know there are people that really have lost confidence in this government... When they start losing confidence in local government, we have a problem, because where else can we turn?"

Mr. Bowden complained about the outburst between City Manager Johnson and Robert Bridges of the City's mainstream media, the Lake City Reporter, opining that Mr. Johnson was supposed to get along with the newspaper.

See: "Lie of Omission": City Manager Johnson Fires Back at Lake City Reporter Editor, Robert Bridges

Mr. Bowden concluded, "You've got to know this. Everybody in this community is not satisfied and there may not be a majority that is not satisfied, but there is enough that people are whispering about what's the next step? ... The person who manages the City has to have the respect and the confidence of its local citizens."


Asst. City Manager Cason.

A Parade of City Workers

Assistant City Manager Grayson Cason came to the microphone. Mayor Witt handed him a list of what appeared to be City employees who supported the City Manager.

Mr. Cason read a letter of support from an unnamed employee.

Mr. Cason then called the roll of many of the City's top brass.

 


Lurette Burks

Lurette Burks, Director of Procurement, praised the City Manager. "Wendell Johnson stands far above the rest. He exemplifies the moral character, ethics, and overall knowledge in all aspects of City government that far exceeds his predecessors."

Ms. Burks said she was disappointed to see a vote of confidence on the agenda for Mr. Johnson.

Roland Luster, the airport manager was next. He said, "I want to thank you for allowing me to address you and show my support for the outstanding job Mr. Johnson is doing."


Roland Luster

Mr. Luster continued the theme, "For the past few months a very small group of people have showed a disagreement with Mr. Johnson and has turned this disagreement into a public character assassination of him."

Mr. Luster claimed that the disagreements were vindictive and he thought "this had to stop."

Mr. Luster's appointment as airport manager was steeped in controversy when Mr. Johnson veered from accepted hiring practices and anointed Mr. Luster to the job.


Paul Dyal

Next up was Paul Dyal, Assistant City Manager of Utilities and Public Works. In some City circles, Mr. Dyal's appointment and job reclassification was another controversial issue.

Mr. Dyal told the City Council: "I'm not a politician. What I've seen at the last few council meetings over the last few months is a disgrace... Once you get chatter started that there is divisiveness in our government, that's bad. It's bad trying to come up with explanations or reasons why it happens. Why the Council, our governing body allows these things to happen... I've already had one granddaughter move away from Lake City because there are not many good job opportunities here... We need good government."

Last in the Roll Call: Police Chief Argatha Gilmore


Lake City Police Chief Gilmore

In and about 2008-09, Police Chief Gilmore came to Lake City. It was an appointment steeped in controversy, discord, and rumors. From the beginning, Councilman Hill has not been a big supporter of the Chief and the feeling appears to be reciprocal.

However, Chief Gilmore has toughed it out and is well liked in the community. It is believed that when City Manager Johnson leaves Lake City, the Chief will not be far behind.

Chief Gilmore:  I want to look the City Manager in the eye and say I support you and I appreciate you for the opportunity that you gave me to be a police chief, which is my dream... Healthy debate is good, but when it is a character assassination, when it's hateful and spiteful all of those vindictive things come into play ... I think we need to be role models to those who look upon us as leaders in the community... Let's put a stop to all this evil and all this hatred that's going on. That's the core of everything that we are seeing."

Praising Caesar
Assistant City Manager Cason Wraps it Up

Mr. Cason told the Council, "We're all very in sync and hopeful that Council can find a way to extend Mr. Johnson's career -- keep the momentum going. Wendell Johnson is a good City Manager."


Councilman Hill

Councilman Hill Not Dissuaded

Mr. Hill was not dissuaded by the comments and made a motion to fire City Manager Johnson.

Mayor Witt asked for a second. There was none.

The motion died for lack of a second.

Councilman Ward

Councilman Ward asked the Mayor for permission to make motion, which was granted.

Mr. Ward said, "I would like to move for an affirmation vote for support and belief that Wendell Johnson as our City Manger and should continue to be our City Manager until he's ready to go or the full council is ready for him to go."

The City Manager serves at the pleasure of a majority of the City Council. That is three members, not the full Council.

Mayor Witt asked, "Is that your motion? Is there a second to that motion?"

Councilwoman Moses seconded the motion.

Mayor Witt:  "We have a motion and a second. Is there any discussion?"

City Attorney Fred Koberlein Whispers Into Action

Attorney Koberlein began whispering with Councilman Ward.


Councilman Ward (left) and City Attorney Fred Koberlein, shortly after the whispering incident.

Mr. Koberlein announced, "Mayor, there may be a problem with the motion as to full support." He did not elaborate.

Mr. Ward said, "I withdraw that portion of it."

Without explaining, Mr. Koberlein said, "I think we all understand Mr. Ward's point."

Mayor Witt:  "Right." "I support Mr. Johnson. He's never misled me. I think he's done a great job. He never said anything that's untrue that I'm aware of."

Ward followed up, "I've been here 20 years. Mr. Johnson is the best City Manager I've ever served with.

Council persons Moses and Jefferson had nothing to add.

The Mayor asked for the vote.

People in the audience were asking what the motion was.

The clerk called the role, 4 in favor, Hill against.

Mayor Witt then appointed Councilman Hill as Vice Mayor for 2018.


City Manager Wendell Johnson

City Manager Johnson: The Last Word

Before the meeting was adjourned, Mr. Johnson said he appreciated the vote of confidence.

Ratcheting back his rhetoric, he told the Council, "I do my best. I am an honest man. I have character and values... I make no secret about it; my plans for the future include retirement. I'll be 69 my next birthday. I've always planned to retire when I felt comfortable with it. I want to give the Council ample notice to find a successor when I do choose retire. Thank you -- everybody that knows me and supported me. I appreciate that more than you can know."

Epilogue

It was a good way to end the meeting.

Comments (to add a comment go here)

On Dec. 5, 2017, a reader wrote:

I applaud Mr. Hill for speaking up for the working people, that do all the hard work. I know from first hand experience that the front line workers are always the ones with less job security and are so easily replaced , because of politics. The other council members need to understand that they are elected by the people and should represent the people, I am sure they have heard complaints from the workers in their prospective district and for whatever reason they have turned a deaf ear to the very people that votes them in, just like Mr. Johnson is looking forward to retirement so are the hard working people that work for the city do also, and to have to deal with the undertones of being fired they complain is just down right shameful.

 

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

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