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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Opinion
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Lake City Reporter, Columbia County's Hometown newspaper, got the wrong man

The Lake City Reporter sees itself as the hometown newspaper of Columbia County/Lake City. The recent reporting and editorializing by the paper of the proposed Lake City, City Manager's photo ban misled the public; blasted City Manager Wendell Johnson for something the City Council has so far rubber stamped with barely a word; and for years has totally ignored even worse actions by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority's Jack Berry, and its past chairman and board member, Representative Elizabeth Porter's Chief of Staff, Koby Adams.

Last week in an editorial the Lake City Reporter wrote that it had checked with the Attorney General's Office regarding the City Manager's proposed photo ban.

On November 17th, the Lake City Reporter's editor, Robert Bridges, emailed half of City Manager Johnson's proposed ban to Pat Gleason, Special Counsel for Open Government at the Office of the Attorney General. Mr. Bridges left out the first sentence of City Manager's two sentence proposed ban (included here): Photo opportunities are allowed before and following a Council meeting. Photo opportunities during a Council meeting will be allowed only upon invitation of the Mayor or presiding officer.

Mr. Bridges asked Ms. Gleason if "under state law" it was allowable to put a "ban on photography at council meetings except "'upon invitation of the mayor or presiding officer?'"

Mr. Bridges included his cell phone number. It is not clear if Ms. Gleason called him back, but on November 18th, Mr. Bridges followed up with Ms. Gleason: "Just to be clear, the case law mentioned [sic] on p. 43 of the [Sunshine] manual covers video - and audio taping of a public meeting. Is still photography included, so long as it's not disruptive?"

Ms. Gleason sent back a one word answer, "Yes."

Page 43 of the Government In The Sunshine Manual states: "A board or commission may adopt reasonable rules and policies which ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and require orderly behavior on the part of those persons attending a public meeting. A board, however, may not ban the use of nondisruptive recording devices."

Ms. Gleason's one word answer, "yes," morphed into the following when the LCR (Lake City Reporter) wrote: "The Lake City Reporter later received confirmation from the Attorney General's Office that such a move would in fact violate Florida's open meetings law. Simply put, the public has a right to document a public meeting in photos - so long as it doesn't create too much of a disturbance in the process."

Nothing in the law or the Sunshine Manual mentions "too much of a disturbance."

The LCR claimed that it has witnessed citizens with cameras move behind city official's chairs to "peak at what's on their desk during a meeting."

During the past 4 years, the Observer only knows of one photographer that has gone on the dais to photograph the goings on at a City Council meeting and that was by invitation of the City's Attorney.

For years, the Lake City Reporter has for the most part been perceived as the mouth piece of local government, being nothing more than a self serving shill for Florida's infamous good ole' boys.

The LCR's continuing failure to report the photo and public comment ban of the Jack Berry run Hospital Authority months after their enactments speaks for itself.

The LCR's failure to acknowledge its publisher, Todd Wilson, was used as a reference by Mr. Berry when he went after the non essential job as part time Authority Manager soon after he shut down his businesses, may have something to do with it, as well as the LCR's failure to note that the Hospital Authority takes out full page ads in which it doesn't mention that it is in the indigent care business.

While City Manager Johnson's proposed rules clearly thread the needle on what is technically allowable under the law and the First Amendment, the ultimate decision on photos, public comment, and what is disruptive had never been an issue before the arrival of City Manager Johnson on the scene, something which the LCR failed to note.

The Observer has been all over North Central Florida photographing meetings and public officials. The only difficulty and repression has been in Columbia County. Now Lake City may be added to the list if the City Council approves the City Manager's Rules, which they have yet to do.

The Lake City Reporter should have been doing its job, instead of worrying about being the self proclaimed cheerleader and so called legit press of Columbia County/Lake City.

If brass at the LCR was more worried about doing its job, rather than offending its advertisers, some of which are the elected officials on whom they report, this issue may have never arisen.

If the LCR understood how local government works, they would have placed the City Manager's proposed photo ban squarely in the lap of the City Council, which is where it belongs.

The Lake City Reporter got the wrong man.

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