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Lake City's Rules of Procedure: Racist? Dictatorial? Fair? – It's Back to the Drawing Board  (Part II)


City Councilman Jake Hill called for a motion to postpone the ordinance changing the way the City conducts it business. After being slammed by some of the speakers, Mayor Witt cast the deciding vote (3-2) to postpone enactment of rules which were written by City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall it wasn't only the City's Rules of Procedure that were being questioned, it was the process itself.

City Rules of Procedure:
Links to more articles

Monday afternoon, former City Council candidate Vanessa George put out a call to arms urging folks to show up in City Hall. She wrote: "Hey guys, it is imperative that as many people show up tonight to the city council meeting at 6. They have put on the agenda restrictions and time regulations to public comments. Please show your support against this with your presence."

Monday Evening at the City Council

Mayor Witt gaveled the meeting to order at 6:06 pm.

After the pledge and the prayer, Mayor Witt opened the first public hearing, which was enacting an ordinance, which among other things necessitated the City to replace the City's Rules of Procedure [Darby's rules] with new ones.

Glenel Bowden: the first speaker.

Glenel Bowden
Veteran politician and activist Glenel Bowden addresses the Council (file photo.

Mr. Bowden criticized the short amount of time the material was available for public inspection before the meeting. He said, "The ordinance is detailed and is very long."

Mr. Bowden also commented about the length of the complete agenda, "I get it on Friday. You get it on Friday. There is no way you could have read the whole thing... I'll be hard pressed to believe that you took the time to read this entire agenda package and digest it all to the point that you can make a critical decision."

Mr. Bowden continued, saying he thought the time restrictions were aimed at the comments of specific speakers, specifically Sylvester Warren and possibly himself. "I think it's personally motivated and it may have a racial overtone," he said.

He continued, "The restriction of time is motivated by you (Mayor Witt) and Ms. Moses (Councilwoman Melinda Moses). I want to let you know I believe you are doin' it for the wrong reason."

The Council's new proposed rules, if implemented, would give speakers a total of three minutes to address the complete agenda, other that public hearings, which are controlled by Florida statute.

Mr. Bowden concluded that the evening's agenda was "over a hundred pages of ordinances, resolutions, letters and that kind of stuff... I think three minutes is too short of a time."

Vanessa George
Former City Council Candidate

Vanessa George
Vanessa George waits for an answer that never came.

Vanessa George ran for City Council in 2018 and lost in a squeaker. She is articulate, well spoken and remains engaged.

She addressed the Council for less than two minutes.

Ms. George got right to it.

"I do have a question. How many public workshops were there before this ordinance?"

Mayor Witt answered, "I think we had one workshop."

Ms. George followed up, "If my memory serves me correctly, we didn't come to a conclusion at the workshop. We were supposed to continue working on it... so all of a sudden we got the ordinance ready... tonight...when did the public become involved?"

Mayor Witt answered, "It was discussed at Council meetings."

Ms. George responded, "At that workshop, we were not allowed to give public input. So, when are we gonna' have a workshop where the public can give their input on this issue? Because right now it's basically, 'Whatever you say, goes.'"

Actually, the public was allowed to comment at the end of the workshop. The Council took the comments to be insignificant. There was to be another workshop.

Ms. George continued, "If you vote on it tonight, basically, you're slapping us all in the face, sayin' we don't have a say. If you're going to have a workshop, you have to allow the public to speak... This cannot happen tonight. How can you vote on this tonight without any public input? Do we not matter?"

Ms. George spent a few seconds waiting for a response.  No one from the Council responded.

She thanked the Council and took her seat.

Sylvester Warren: Community Activist
Did he go overboard?

Sylvester Warren
Sylvester Warren makes a point during his 17 minutes at the podium, during which he was not interrupted.

Mr. Warren began, "I'm probably going to be up here, maybe for my whole fifteen minutes, because I take very critical issue with this whole idea of tryin' to amend the ordinance to this effect."

Mr. Warren said that when the Blanche Hotel issue was before the City Council, there were not issues with time limits. Mr. Warren pointed out that at that time the speakers were white and now that he is bringing issues up about areas north of the tracks, which are predominately black, there is a problem with time limits.

Mr. Warren brought up that the Mayor had heard from "some of your cronies and colleagues and friends about puttin' a stop to me, is what you said at one point."

Mr. Warren said that those folks don't come to the meetings. "What you need to be more concerned about is the folks that come and wanna' talk about the issues; care enough to address the issues... we're your eyes and ears in the community."

Mr. Warren then made some personal remarks about the Mayor. The Mayor remained silent.

Mr. Warren then intoned that when the Council ignores the black community they are ignoring Jesus.

Mayor Steve Witt
Lake City Mayor Steve Witt listened, never losing his cool.

Mr. Warren claimed there was a "personal vendetta" against him because he is "a truth bearer."

Mr. Warren also said that the actions to restrict speech were reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.

Mr. Warren continued with his harangue against the mayor and the council, "What is wrong with you? I'm askin' what's wrong with you. Are we sober here?"

Finally, the Mayor spoke up. "I'm gonna' ask the Council right now. Do you all want to take this off the agenda, or do you want to address it tonight? I'm gettin' attacked."

Councilman Jake Hill
A calm voice in the storm

Councilman Jake Hill
Councilman Hill ponders the situation during the presentations.

Councilman Hill spoke up. "This is my opinion, Mayor. Again the community is speaking. It is the same situation as in what happened across the street. The community came out to speak against the Hotel (Blanche), but the Council didn't pay that any attention... then they found all kind of hiccups in the contract... I'm gonna' listen to the public. I'm gonna' listen to what the community has to say."

Mayor Witt asked, "Is that a motion?"

Mr. Hill responded, "Yes it is."

A few moments later Mr. Hill continued, "I don't know if anybody out here voted for me, but I feel it's my job to do what I feel is right. Part of doin' what's right for me, is to listen to you [the public].

A motion was made to postpone the public hearing on the ordinance and the resolution adopting the Koberlein cobbled together rules.

Mr. Koberlein advised the Council that the postponement would need to be for a specific time.

The clerk called the roll. Councilwoman Moses and Councilman Greene were opposed to the postponement. Councilmen Jefferson and Hill were in favor. The tie breaker went to the recently maligned Mayor Witt. He voted with Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hill.

The new rules were not enacted. There was no time set to reconvene the hearing.

Mayor Witt: the final word

Before this article was posted Mayor Witt told your reporter, "I am pondering the next move; we will regroup and discuss it at the next regular meeting."

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